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Nurturing a Kinder, Gentler Child With Empathy

Too Small to Fail
By Too Small to Fail

Sometimes, very young children can be highly attuned to the emotional state of others—crying when they see a parent or sibling cry, for example. Other times, they can appear insensitive, ignoring a child’s cries or pointing out differences that make adults wince.  The ability to relate to how others feel, or empathy, is learned in different ways throughout a person’s life and while not always readily apparent in babies or toddlers, it is an important skill to learn that contributes to success in school and beyond.

Empathy is closely linked to social and emotional development, and researchers agree that people who show strong empathy for others tend to have better social interactions, and do better in school and at work. This kind of prosocial behavior—behavior that benefits others—is an asset in building relationships and in developing moral behavior. Like other social and emotional skills, empathy is best nurtured in infancy by a parent or caregiver.

Talking about feelings is a great way to start this process. In order to help children develop the positive benefits of empathy—without becoming emotionally distressed by the pain of others—parents and caregivers can use every day moments to teach these important life skills. For example, if a child observes another fall down, a parent can explain how that child may feel and then model empathic behavior by asking the fallen child if he’s okay or needs help.

Parents can also help their children understand that it feels good to help others in need by being affectionate and responsive to their children’s needs.

Resources for Sharing:

  • Find tips here for improving the social and emotional health of children from birth through age three, from the experts at ZERO TO THREE.
  • This article from PBS offers tips for nurturing emotionally secure, confident children—from infancy.

SOCIAL ACTION: We're honoring all of the teachers who have made a difference in our lives—parents and caregivers, too—for World Teacher’s Day on October 5th. Starting Monday, September 29, use #MyFirstTeacher on Twitter to share your best early teacher and what they taught you. We’ll retweet our favorites, so include a photo if you can!

Posted In: Newsletter