Sometimes it can feel like kindness is running in short supply these days. The busier our lives get, the harder it is to slow down and remember others needs. But kindness is a habit -- a good one! -- and many times our sense of kindness comes from early experiences with kind caregivers and grown-ups. Research suggests there are several different empathy milestones in your young child's life. And there are clear ways to develop empathy. Here are a few of my favorite tips.
Love your child well.
No brainer, right? Make sure you establish a bond of safety and trust with your child starting at birth. Come when they cry. Hold them often. Sing them to sleep. Let them know that they can count on you to be there for them.
Ask questions about how others might be feeling.
At the youngest ages, your child is still learning that they are separate from others. An early developmental milestone for your child is understanding that others may feel different emotions from them at any time. While your child is happy, another child may be sad. Take this opportunity to talk with your child about this. "Look, Evie is crying. I think she might be feeling a little sad because she has no toys. Would you like to go share one of your toys with her? That might make her feel better."
Allow your child to feel emotions.
So often when a child begins to cry, the caregiver's reaction is to find a way to stop the crying as soon as possbile. But it is essential that your child learn how to cope with emotions, especially negative ones. "I know you're upset that we have to leave. You were having fun. But it's time to go home now. We can play again later."
Read stories that promote kindness.
Storytelling is one of the strongest tools we humans when it comes to cultivating empathy and understanding difficult situations and those different from us. Stories allow a reader or listener to momentarily enter the character's mind and understand their situation as our own. It is the key to cultivating kindness.
A few of my favorite read-aloud stories that promote empathy and kindness: