Little ones can be ever so kind and lovely – but not always! So how do you encourage that sympathetic side, asks child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson
From trying to comfort you when you’re upset or offering her food or toy to a friend, your toddler has a built-in ability to care. But, as all mums know, they can be pretty anti-social, too. That’s partly because they have competing instincts, like when your toddler pushes a friend out of the way to get to some sweets – she’s giving in to her need for food over her need to share. A toddler can also become uncaring when she sees other people being mean. If she sees mum and dad shouting at each other because they can’t get their own way, the chances are she’ll do the same too when she can’t get what she wants.
Psychologists have identified three skills found in toddlers who typically behave in a caring and kind way towards others – sharing, cooperation and empathy. Cooperation happens when toddlers work together in order to achieve a common goal. Sharing’s more about when one child gives something to another child, without any obvious sign of personal gain. When your little one cries because you or a sibling or friend is feeling upset, that’s empathy. She doesn’t just feel sorry for you, she’s upset, just like you. It’s really amazing to think your little one can be so in tune with the world and people around her, but these skills don’t come easily to every child. A typical toddler’s so full of her own self-importance she might not always think readily about others unless she’s told to. So be prepared to explain to her the sort of behaviour you are expecting.
It’s about getting in there first, rather than waiting for anti-social or uncaring behaviour to happen and then having to correct it. The best way to try and encourage her to be friendly, kind and caring is to provide as many opportunities as possible. From helping you with a chore, to playing a game together, giving your growing child minor duties like these teaches her to think about others and to be considerate to them, and soon it’ll become second nature to her.
Having shared responsibility for a pet can boost your toddler’s caring nature. You don’t need to get a dog or a cat, a small, low-maintenance pet like a goldfish will do. She’ll feel so rewarded caring for the welfare of a living thing. Of course, you’ll need to supervise the care, but let her feel that she’s in charge.
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