Hello everyone, welcome to our March newsletter! As always, we provide an overview of what is happening within our childcare community. This month we will focus on how to teach empathy in young children.
Topic of the month - Teaching empathy
While empathy moulds us into better human beings, it is something that needs to be actively taught and honed in young children. As their brains are still developing, young children are mostly focused on “me, myself, and I” rather than thinking about how their actions will affect others.
They come into this world learning first hardwired to accomplish things that are purely for their own satisfaction. This curiosity and inner drive fuels them to accomplish tasks, learn more about the world around them, and master their surroundings.
However, one crucial thing missing from a young child’s brain is feeling and consideration for others. Research shows that at 24 months, most children often begin to be aware of other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. However, this is still not enough to motivate them to consider other people in their actions.
A two-year old is yet to understand the meaning of sharing a toy, playing with a peer or even getting along with their playmate. Instead, they may play alongside other children but not with them. However, this is a way for parents or carers to start encouraging prosocial behaviour, which in turn, will translate into genuine empathy for others.
The Science of Empathy
Empathy, while it helps humanity move forward and progress, is not innate in us. It needs to develop in three stages.
1. Emotional contagion
In the first stage of developing empathy, babies are yet to understand they are different from other babies. This is why when one baby cries, other babies in the area who hear it instinctively begin to cry as well. This is emotional contagion wherein babies who are yet to mature and recognise themselves as a separate individual, join in and lend themselves to be easily influenced by others’ emotions, be it crying or laughing.
2. Recognising others’ feelings
This begins at around 1 year of age when toddlers begin to pay more attention to others’ facial expressions. They are constantly studying faces of the people around them, and can discern if another is happy, sad or upset. In return, they can display concern over the feelings of others.
3. Understanding others’ mental states
Starting at two years of age, a toddler begins to recognise that other people may feel and think differently than he/she does. They begin to understand that when a friend of theirs cries, they might be feeling upset. Or when they laugh, they feel joy. They recognise facial expressions more easily and are able to understand other people’s feelings, thoughts and actions might be different from what they are feeling.
Activities to Teach Empathy
In order for young children to learn empathy, they must be given frequent opportunities to exercise it in various activities. Here are some activities that parents and early childhood educators can use to teach empathy to young children.
Model sharing and turn-taking
Children learn values like empathy mostly from their primary caregivers like parents and carers like early childhood educators. When they see prosocial behaviour in their role models, it gives them an idea on which behaviours are favourable and a pattern to follow to display such behaviours. Young children absorb the values they see in their environment easily
Choose cooperative games
Give young children more opportunities to learn how to play and get along with others through cooperative play that requires them to work together to achieve a common goal. Whether it’s cooking or building, it requires children to interact, communicate and cooperate, giving them valuable experiences in how to achieve a goal or outcome with the help of others.
Storytelling is a way to open children’s minds to other peoples’ lives and worlds. It gives them a glimpse of other people’s lived experiences, thoughts and feelings. Discussing a character’s feelings, whether it’s the protagonist or antagonist, also deepens a child’s understanding about how others may think, feel, and act differently especially when young children may have such a black-and-white absolute view of the world and its rules of engagement.
Teaching empathy to young children isn’t an overnight process. However, with perseverance and patience, young children start to understand that other people also have feelings and may think and behave differently. Given opportunities and activities, they can practise shifting the focus from themselves to other people, imagining how other people may feel and express understanding, starting their way to developing empathy.
0-12 month development
What parents get wrong about childhood ‘milestones’
Author: Amanda Ruggeri
Parents, especially new parents, with children born during the first two years of the pandemic have been worrying and fretting about whether their child is developing normally and on track with their peers, childhood milestones have been their goalposts. However, researchers have found out that while development milestones are good indicators of a child’s development progress, they are not a universal standard and can even vary culturally down to every family.
It’s the sound of torture for many parents and it’s the sound of plea bargaining for young children–whinging. As young children are yet to develop verbal communication skills, they whinge and whine for things they need. But according to psychologist Dani Clarke, it can be a sign that a parent-child connection needs more work.
Read more about how a parent can prevent a child’s whining moments with good communication here.
2-3 year development
What it means when your toddler refuses to potty train, according to a pediatric urologist
Author: Steve Hodges, M.D.
Is potty training a warzone of wills for your little one? A pediatric urologist has narrowed it down to the two most common reasons a child refuses to use the toilet: either they’re not developmentally-ready yet or they’re too constipated their little bodies aren’t sending a signal it’s time to potty.
Read more about how to navigate this tricky part of potty training here.
3-4 year development
Frequently using digital devices to soothe young children may backfire
Author: Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan
Mobile phones have become a parent or caregiver's new best friend and nanny especially when a tantrum or meltdown is about to occur. However, researchers at the University of Michigan have found that it might not be the best way to resolve tantrums and may even be detrimental to children developing coping strategies and emotional regulation.
Read more about the study and find soothing skills to help children build emotional regulation skills here.
4-5 year development
How To Measure Whether Your Child’s Tantrums Are Normal
Author: Joshua A. Krisch
While temper tantrums are a normal part of a child growing up, discovering big emotions, and learning how to regulate their reactions, there is now a way for a parent or caregiver to gauge whether the tantrums are normal or a beginning of a behavioural problem.
See how your child’s tantrum frequency and temperament fare on a temper tantrum scale here.
How to Make Glowing Flowers
Appreciate the beauty of a flower even after lights out with this STEM activity that makes flowers glow in the dark. There are 4 ways to choose from to extract phosphorescent material and into a flowers’ stem and petals.
Sounds ironic but hot ice will certainly make kids curious about how two opposites can be combined. Using some chemistry magic mixing basic ingredients like baking soda and vinegar, heat helps in creating this hot ice magic concoction. Adult supervision is required when heating the mixture.
Has pasta night become too boring for your child? Bring back their liking for pasta with these organically-coloured unicorn noodles. The first step, boiling purple cabbage, requires an adult to do it but the rest of the steps can safely be accomplished by a toddler.
Perfect for making an afternoon drink, children will be ecstatic to make their own slushy version of their favourite drink by mixing a salt-water solution to hasten the ice-forming process. The activity will have children learn measuring, mixing, and creating ice crystals that form their slushy.