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