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Empathy and Sharing in the Early Years

From before birth children form strong relationships with their parents. As they get older they will also grow close to other caregivers such as grandparents and nursery carers. These first relationships help babies to learn the concept of ‘me’ and ‘not me’ and they instinctively go to these people to be soothed. These relationships are the beginnings of empathy.

Young children remain very ego-centric throughout their toddling and preschool years. The world truly does revolve around them! It takes a lot of time, experience and practise for children to learn that their actions have effects on others. This is why you sometimes find it so difficult to get your child to share their toys and possessions with their friends. Don’t worry too much about this. They can’t understand the situation from another person’s point of view the same way that an adult could. If we’re honest, a lot of us find that hard too!

Between two and three years old your child will also have limited language skills meaning that they could get frustrated at not being able to express their feelings and they may occasionally lash out in anger at you or their little friends. Even though it seems like the right thing to do, don’t force your child to say sorry. The ability to be empathic isn’t fully developed until the age of 6 or 7 years. Instead explain to your child in very simple terms why their actions were wrong and move on, a simple ‘no’ is often all they need.

Children learn a lot from watching others so it’s important that they see good role models in the adults that they spend the most time with. With this in mind, when you look at a nursery for your child, look at how the staff treat each other. Is there a friendly, collaborative atmosphere (you will sense this almost straightaway) and are people communicating well with each other?

You can’t underestimate the power of kindness. As the great man and children’s author Roald Dahl once said:

“I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else. Kindness – that simple word. To be kind – it covers everything, to my mind.
If you’re kind that’s it.”

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