The ability to sense how someone is feeling and to imagine what it might be like to walk in their shoes even for a moment, are examples of empathy in action.

This emotional understanding and connection to the feelings of others as well as oneself has been the foundation of the Canadian organization, Roots of Empathy, which turns 25 in 2021.

Photo of Mary Gordon of Roots of Empathy and baby

Courtesy: Roots of Empathy

Founded by Mary Gordon, a mom of two, grandmother of four, teacher, author and award-winning social entrepreneur, the organization’s work has been described as groundbreaking.

In a podcast interview with Lianne Castelino of Where Parents, Gordon, describes the importance of emotional literacy for both children and adults, and offers tips on how parents support teaching empathy in raising children.

Rooted in science, Roots of Empathy is a classroom-based program for children between 5 to 13 years of age.

Certified instructors help children pinpoint and better understand their own feelings, as well as recognize the emotions of those around them.


This understanding is achieved through experiential learning, specifically by having a parent and infant serve as the key teaching resources. Children learn to observe the baby’s development over time, in order to gain insight into how the baby may be feeling.

Introduced in Canada in 1996, the Roots of Empathy program is taught in more than a dozen countries, impacting more than one million children globally.

Roots of Empathy classroom instruction

St. Elizabeth Seton – Pickering ON
Courtesy: Roots of Empathy

A study conducted in 2011 by Schonert-Reichl et al., about the Roots of Empathy program found, “…the results of this study provide empirical evidence that a relatively easy-to-implement universal classroom-based intervention that does not focus exclusively on disturbed or atypical children substantially improves children’s cooperative and kind behavior to one another and decreases their aggression.”

According to the Roots of Empathy website, other key research findings include:
“An increase in social and emotional competencies
An increase in prosocial behaviours (such as sharing, helping and including).
A decrease in aggressive behaviours, including bullying
Greater acceptance towards their peers and an increased perception of a caring and supportive classroom environment.
An increase in knowledge of infant development ”

Listen to the Where Parents Talk podcast interview with Mary Gordon, Founder, Roots of Empathy:

Related links:

Roots of Empathy


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