Have you ever wondered how parents can help when it comes to teaching kids empathy? The emotional ability is part of development that many younger kiddos struggle with. And that’s okay. Kind of. Hey, no one is saying your preschooler is a sociopath in training just because they don’t get the feels when their BFF falls down. They probably just haven’t gotten to the developmental stage where they can truly empathize yet. But now science says your tot may be able to empathize earlier than previously thought—that is, with your help.
Age four. That’s been the standard for expecting the beginnings of empathy development in children. But researchers from the Lund University in Sweden may have found evidence to the contrary. Or at the very least, evidence that shows that kids can empathize earlier than 4-years-old.
The Lund University study looked at how children ages 33- to 54-months reacted to a story or film clip about a child whose father moved a favorite toy (while the child was outside playing). The book stopped and the film froze before the ending of the story. The children in the study had to predict what would happen when the child went inside to look for the toy. Some of the children watched the film/read the book with a parent who was engaged in the activity, and others watched/were read to alone.
The researchers found that even the younger children who watched/read with a parent were able to correctly predict what would happen, while the others (as expected) said that the child in the story would look for the plane where it was before.
So what does this mean? Possibly, that the children who watched/read the story with an engaged parent were better able to take perspectives and understand that other people do indeed have their own beliefs. These abilities could extend to the development of empathy earlier on.
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