Rudimentary signs of empathy are apparent at birth. Newborns cry whenthey hear another infant crying, and very young babies imitate and reactto the facial expressions of others. Though these actions are reflexive,not conscious, they show that the brain is primed to respond to otherhumans. Parents are essential to this process. Every time a parentresponds lovingly to an infant's needs, feeding or soothing him, newneural connections are made, which associate good feelings with parentalcare and form the basis of the ability to love and empathize.

A toddler's first demonstrations of reciprocity are often directed atthe parent. A 12-month-old may try to feed her mother, but may simplystare at a child who is crying. By 2, children often try to comfort kidsas well, for example, by offering their doll to an upset child. Whatthey don't yet realize is that people's needs differ and that thepacifier from which they derive comfort, for example, may not do thetrick for someone else.

One of their first words is "Mine!" because ownership enhances theirnewfound sense of self. Although the idea of sharing can be introduced,kids are unable to act on it for another year or so.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Praise your child when he shows concern for or comforts anotherchild.
  • Play a game called "feeling faces," in which you make a face, pointat yourself, and say, "happy," "sad," "angry," or "surprised." Drawsimple pictures with these expressions as well.
  • What's the Goal?
    To help your child become conscious of his own feelings and recognizeemotions in others.

    Activities For Younger Children
    Empathy Collage
     Location: Table or desk
     Materials: Old magazines, heavy paper, glue, scissors, pens
     Number of people: Two or more
     Description: Help your children make "empathy collages." First, look through magazines and identify together how people in the photographs are feeling. Then cut the pictures out and glue them on heavy paper. Below each photo, help your child write the feeling displayed. Afterwards, have everyone talk about a time they experienced one of the feelings shown.


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