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Children, Empathy and Dogs

By Peter Goldenthal, Ph.D., ABPP


Empathy, the ability to see and feel the world from another person's perspective, is a crucial ingredient in all intimate relationships. Over 20,000 years, dogs have developed this capacity, some to a truly remarkable degree. 


Most children are naturally empathic. They can learn to be even more empathic and to have empathy even under trying circumstances. Those children who are lucky enough to grow up with a canine companion have a great advantage. 

Parents can also point out ways in which the family pet has empathy for its human companions; noticing when someone is ill, tired, or upset, for example. Parents can also help children to learn to identify their dog's moods and needs: when the dog is tired, bored and asking to play, or frightened and needing a comforting pet or snuggle.

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What is Your Child So Worried About? (and what can you do about it)

High School students are anxious about college. Middle School students are anxious about the approach of high school. Both groups are anxious about relationships. Everybody knows that. But what do first and second graders have to be anxious about?

Quite a lot, as it turns out. When you talk seriously with children between five  Read More 

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What is Animal Assisted Therapy for Children?

In my practice, animal-assisted therapy has a specific meaning: applying knowledge of the unique bond that can between people and dogs, as well as the great interpersonal skills of Sasha, my canine partner and an unusually sensitive daschund-mix.

My youngest patients connect instantly with Sasha, who eagerly greets them with a wagging tail and,  Read More 

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How Your Dog Can Help Your Child be Mindful

I’ve written previously, as have many others, about the ways in which meditation and mindfulness practices can help children. One built in problem, a sort of Catch-22 is that those children who most need to learn to calm themselves and to focus their minds are those least likely to want to sit still,  Read More 
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Sibling Rivalry in Young Children

Parents of preschoolers are often worried about sibling rivalry. Here I will answer questions that journalists, parents in my office, and those attending my talks and workshops have asked.

My children sometimes squabble just before dinner. Is this normal?

The answer to this depends on how often your children squabble,  Read More 
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What is Sibling Rivalry?

What is Sibling Rivalry?

As some readers of this blog may know, I’ve devoted a lot of time to thinking and writing about this question (Beyond Sibling Rivalry, Why Can’t We Get Along) and have only recently figured out how to share my expertise in bite-sized chunks that you can read while drinking a  Read More 
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Children and Families #5: Mindfulness Meditation for Children

Helping Your Child be Mindful and Calm

In the past 10 or 20 years, meditation, once associated only with Eastern religious practice, has morphed into “mindfulness meditation,” but it is still the same practice, and it still has the same goals. The practice involves focus, slowing heartbeat and breathing, and observing both internal and external experience.  Read More 
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Dogs and Therapy #1

I decided to start this series of posts because of what I has observed going on in therapy and counseling between my patients and my dogs: first a small white dog who I still insist was a petit basset griffon Vendeen (PBGV) who had wandered away from home until she found  Read More 
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Children and Families #1: The Mind of a Child


Marianne, a petite 4-year-old, came to see me after her mother had received a spate of notes home from her preschool teacher complaining about aggressive behavior. Since very few girls have problems with aggression, especially at this age, I was intrigued to see what sort of little terror would appear in my office. I was skeptical as well, since I had met her mother and father, and neither was remotely aggressive or intimidating.

After Marianne had been in my office for five minutes, my skepticism about her teacher's ``diagnosis'' was confirmed. This was not an aggressive child. To the contrary, my growing understanding of her was that she was actually quite sensitive, very concerned about how adults and other children related to her and quite prone to having her feelings hurt if she experienced anything that seemed like rejection.

I learned that some children in her preschool class occasionally made comments that she took as indicating that they disliked her. What looked like aggression was in truth the effort of a hurt 4-year-old to defend herself against a perceived affront. I phoned the teacher and shared my understanding  Read More 
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Children and Families #2

Q. What causes encopresis?
A. In nearly all instances, encopresis is the result of chronic constipation. For this reason it is often referred to as “functional encopresis,” or “encopresis with constipation.”

How can I tell if my child has encopresis?
A. If your child has fecal stains in his underwear, with or without small  Read More 
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