We often hear that toddler years are filled with willful assertions of “Me!” and “Mine!” But underneath those growing recognitions of becoming more individualized and independent, toddlers also realize that others have feelings too. During this developmental growth stage, it is a great time to encourage caring. Your child is learning to read other people’s feelings.
As parents, we need to do everything possible to help our children learn how to be empathetic. Empathy is a foundation for all relationships. In fact, there are simple but powerful ways you can encourage your child to be caring.
Teach your child the words
Toddlers who are pretty chatty might not have the words for some of the big feelings they encounter. One way to help your child express their emotions they are feeling or identifying what emotions they are having is to bring up feelings in the conversation. For example, when a baby brother or sister cries you can ask your toddler why their baby brother or sister is crying. You can sometimes offer guidance by asking, “Do you think your brother or sister is sad because you took their toy away?”
These small conversations can help your toddler become more aware of other people’s feelings and to teach them the vocabulary to talk about them. In addition, you can even make your child the center of the lesson. Pull out photos of your child. Pictures of your child expressing emotions, such as being thrilled, calm, or cranky are great examples to use in this lesson. Point to the pictures of your child and describe the instances of which your child has been kind or helpful to others, etc. Toddlers will love this lesson because they enjoy looking back at little things they have done or said. The stories about them will help them become aware of how their actions affect others.
Set an example
Your child will learn and develop empathy by the way you set an example. She or he will be watching how you interact with other people. Your toddler will learn what words you say or what actions you do. So next time you speak to someone or perform an action, remember you have little eyes and ears who are watching and listening to you.
Practice, practice, practice!
One way for your child to learn how to be emphatic is having him or her interact with all kinds of people. This will teach your child that people think and feel differently. One way for your child to realize that people are all different is with basic things. For example, tell your child that mom might like carrots but dad doesn’t like carrots.
As your toddler grows you will introduce them to more hands on ways to recognize other people’s needs. If you have a pet within the family, help teach your toddler to care for the family pet by feeding them or brushing their fur. If you are at the playground and notice a child is playing by themselves, point out that something is wrong and say “Let’s go see if they want to play.”
Overall, helping find opportunities for your child to practice learning to respond to other people’s feelings can help them learn valuable lessons.