Empathy involves your child’s ability to put herself into another person’s shoes and to experience something as that other person would.
Mina is sitting on the ground waiting for her friends Tegan and Gia at the park, while the moms watch nearby. The two girls began to whisper in each other’s ear about who has the best dress on. Tegan turns to Gia and whispers, “My dress is better than Mina’s!” Mina drops her head and folds her hands. Mina starts to cry. Gia walks over to Mina and begins to comfort her by pat ting her on the back. Gia asks, “Mina, are you okay? I’m sad you’re crying. I’ll get my mom.”
Gia is showing empathy toward Mina by asking if she is okay and even offering to get support so that her friend can feel better. When Gia says she is sad that Mina is crying it is her way of putting herself in Mina’s shoes. This is a newer skill for a three year old. Gia’s social skills have developed over time.
At age three, your child takes a huge leap into the world of socialization. When children this age are exposed to social opportunities, they will most naturally gravitate toward social play. It is the role of the parent and caregivers to help “coach” their child through social interactions when needed. Parents and adults need to give their child the words to join into play and give her options about how to resolve conflicts.
Starting to learn these skills now will help promote self-confidence in your child and make her feel positive about playing with other children. During this time, your child will also start developing a sense of humor and the ability to show empathy for others.
When your child was younger she would look to you for guidance about how to deal with social situations with friends. As children get older, they become more confident and independent and less dependent on others to work through social events.
Help your child understand empathy for others by modeling empathy and pointing out situations that call for empathy. If you and your child see someone getting hurt on TV, talk with your child about how that person must feel. Read books about characters showing empathy and helping to find solutions for another character’s problem. And encourage your child to interact with family members, peers, caregivers, and teachers.