Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kindness and Empathy--Three Strategies

This week we are looking at three strategies to teach kindness and empathy to the two to five year old. These strategies build very naturally upon the work we have done with our infant which was to read the emotional cues and add our words in empathizing with our infant. The three strategies for this week are 1) continue empathizing with the emotional cues our preschooler gives and adding our words to our child’s experience; 2) give our child practice in understanding and imagining the feelings of others from books or television; and 3) help our child remember similar experiences and feelings in their own lives.
1) When families move from one home to another, the stress is felt by everyone. Especially challenging is the stress felt by our toddler because of the lack of power they have over a scary situation that they cannot begin to fully comprehend. One little girl, fully potty trained stood in the midst of her once familiar living room surrounded by moving boxes. With a look of great unhappiness, she peed on the floor. What could the mother’s response be in this situation? If she is terribly stressed herself, she may not be able to empathize with her daughter’s feelings. However the very best response is to put comforting words to the child’s experience. “Oh honey, this moving business is hard for you. It must feel scary having all your nice toys packed away in these boxes. Let’s clean up and have a little cuddle and we’ll talk about how we are feeling.”
2) There are a great many wonderful books for preschoolers which give voice to the feelings children are experiencing. The ‘Little Critter’ book series by Mercer Mayer includes many books about feelings: sad, angry, or scared. There are also books in this series which put the Little Critter in relationships with members of his family where these feelings occur. These books give us an opportunity to discuss feelings when the feeling is not overpowering to the child at the moment, “How would you feel if you were the Little Critter and your friends teased you?”
3) Another great strategy to teach kindness and empathy is to use cuddling times with your child and ‘remember’ events in your child’s life that you can help your child remember and relate to others in his or her experience. “Do you remember when we visited your big cousins and they would not let you play the game they were playing? Do you remember how badly you felt when you were left out? Do you think Susie feels that way when you and Katie play together without her?” This strategy is so much more helpful to the development of kindness and empathy than the strategy of telling children. “You had better share with your baby brother!—or else!” Next week I will close this important discussion with 3 more strategies to teach our children to be kind and empathetic.

A turkey is a funny bird
His head goes wobble, wobble.
And all he says is just one word,
“Gobble, gobble, gobble”

Hold head with hands and wobble it.

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