Welcome to the January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting resolutions!
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month we’re writing about how we want to parent differently — or the same — in the New Year. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
The Carnival of Natural Parenting asked this month for us to think about our parenting resolutions for 2010. On the cusp of having a one-year-old, it seemed like a great time for thinking about what I want to theme my parenting on in the next year. My theme for 2009 was definitely Attachment. I wanted Aellyn to learn that the world was a safe place, mommy (or daddy) would always be there to take care of her needs. Attachment is such an important base for any other parent-child interaction so of course I’ll continue that but for 2010 I think my theme will be Empathy.
em·pa·thy http://sp.ask.com/dictstatic/d/g/speaker.swf (ěm’pə-thē)
n. Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.
Empathy is for grown ups?
When you think of the myriad things that a child learn in their second year of life empathy may not seem to be at the forefront. Walking, fine motor skills, rudimentary language, etc. probably come to mind. The toys and books designed for this age are primarily to enforce these skills – blocks, shape sorters, books with first words like colors. There isn’t anything wrong with these items and I plan on having a few around but, in all honesty, I think a parent would have to go out of their way to stop a child from learning these things. At this age a baby has a driving need to explore and know their environment. By ensuring a safe environment free of violence (yelling or physical punishment) and plenty of opportunity to say yes to her, Aellyn will surely learn her letters, numbers, and colors (it is, in fact, the primary philosophy of unschooling that learning is the natural state of children if left unimpeded by “teaching”).
Empathy, however, seems to be somewhat different. Humans appear to be hardwired for empathy from birth (see below) but its development is based on interactions with other people and thus is highly dependent on the quality and quantity of those interactions. Empathy has also traditionally been left to the school-age crowd since it was believed that pre-school children were not capable of Theory of Mind, or the understanding that others have different views than the self, a cornerstone of empathy. Recent research, however, shows that even infants have the rudimentary behavior needed for empathy.
- At 7-9 months of age infants understand the concept of attention to objects by others. This shared-attention is result of the baby understanding that a person besides themselves finds an object of interest, and hence has a different thought. (Baron-Cohen, S. (1991). Precursors to a theory of mind: Understanding attention in others. In A. Whiten (Ed.), Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development and simulation of everyday mindreading (pp. 233-251). Oxford: Basil Blackwell)
- At 12 months old infants can predict the behavior of someone else, an essential ingredient of empathy. (Falck-Ytter, T., Gredebäck, G., & von Hofsten, C (2006). Infants predict other people’s action goals. Nature Neuroscience, 9 (7), 878-879. (PDF 138kB))
- 18 month olds show understanding of another person’s goals and intentions but do not do so for inanimate objects. (Meltzoff, A. (1995). Understanding the intentions of others: Re-enactment of intended acts by 18-month-old children. Developmental Psychology, 31, 838-850.)
- 24 month olds display comforting behavior.
“Recent developments in research cast doubt on early conceptions of young children as primarily egocentric and uncaring of others’needs. Studies reviewed indicate a broad range of social competencies children bring to their interpersonal relationships. As early as 2 years of age, they show (a) the cognitive capacity to interpret, in simple ways, the physical and psychological states of others, (b) the emotional capacity to experience, affectively, the state of others, and (c) the behavioral repertoire that permits the possibility of attempts to alleviate discomfort in others.” (Zahn-Waxler, C., & Radke-Yarrow, M. (1990). The origins of empathic concern. Motivation and Emotion, 14, 107-130.)
Empathy is the foundation for a variety of skills/attitudes I aspire to for Aellyn.
- Empathy is necessary for successful social relationships (Marcus, Robert F. Empathy and popularity of preschool children. Child Study Journal. Vol 10(3),1980, 133-145.).
- Empathy leads to increased academic achievement (see my reading list below).
- Empathy leads to creativity (Creativity and Cognition).
- Empathy decreases violence and aggression, including tantrums (Feshbach, Norma D.; Feshbach, Seymour. The relationship between empathy and aggression in two age groups. Developmental Psychology. Vol 1(2), Mar 1969, 102-107.).
- Empathy is the root of a global worldview (Lisa A. Hollingsworth, Mary J. Didelot, Judith O. Smith; REACH beyond Tolerance: A Framework for Teaching Children Empathy and Responsibility. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, Vol. 42, 2003).
- Empathy reduces prejudice (http://www.onfiction.ca/2009/11/research-bulletin-reducing-prejudice.html)
- Empathy is the root of environmentalism (a great article about biophilia in children: Nurturing Children’s Biophilia: Developmentally Appropriate Environmental Education for Young Children.)
Nurturing Empathy in a Toddler
Feelings for Little Children Series. This series come in Mad, Happy, Silly, and Sad versions and is designed for 1-3 year olds. From the publisher website:
“Mad, Happy, Silly, and Shy are charming beginner’s introductions to a feelings vocabulary. The sooner parents start using language to express feelings with their babies, the sooner toddlers will be able to say how they feel. Parents know how much easier their job is when their toddlers can make themselves understood! Mad, Happy, Silly, and Shy will give the youngest children a head start on the road to healthy expression of feelings. These unique board books fill an unmet need in a most engaging way.”
My Many Colored Days by Dr. Suess. This is a classic that provides many different ways to express feelings. For example, “On Purple Days/ I’m sad./ I groan./ I drag my tail./ I walk alone.” A marriage retreat that DH and I went to stressed the importance of finding a variety of ways to describe our feelings and one was color. Clearly they were on to something.
Baby Faces. This is a favorite of mine because it uses photographs of real babies which Aellyn always seems to respond to more.
Feelings (Reading Rainbow Book). This book has several short stories that each highlight a feeling.
I’m Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem by Jamie Lee Curtis. I love this book. It doesn’t deal with empathy per se but I think self-esteem is such an important part of empathy. If you don’t love yourself you can’t love others, right?
2. Toys and Games
It is called a Kimochis (Japanese for feelings) and there are several styles (adorable website btw). I really want the one in the video – Cloud. I think I might be able to sew some additional feeling pieces for him but they do sell the kits and each one comes with instructions on how to engage your child with the doll.
Do2Learn has printable emotion cards that I plan to make into flash cards for Aellyn (although I could probably just draw something myself). If you have older kids that can use the computer they have a great interactive Feelings Game too that is free. Also, check out Emotions Bingo and Faceland.
I Never Forget A Face. This is a memory game, which is probably a few years away for Aellyn but I think exposure to multicultural images from a young age is also important. I want Aellyn’s empathy to reach beyond people that are like her.
Modeling for Mommy
“Our children are watching us live, and what we are shouts louder than anything we can say.”
Wilferd A. Peterson quotes
I love this quote. It is so true. Teaching empathy isn’t just about helping children develop feeling words but about showing them empathy and displaying empathy for others in my own actions. When someone cuts me off in traffic I can let road rage take over or I can say “they must be in a hurry. That must be frustrating for them.” I also want to name my own emotions. “Mommy is frustrated because traffic is bad.” And reflect Aellyn’s emotions by giving them a name. “I know you are sad that bathtime is over.”
My Reading List
Some books (and online resources) I want to read this year that will help me focus on parenting with empathy. (I also love How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, which I’ve already read.)
Canada seems to be a step ahead of us in the importance of empathy in parenting and education. I found the following 2 sites that I want to explore further. Empathetic Parenting from the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Seeds of Empathy (Roots of Empathy for older children).
Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child by Mary Gordon
Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others by Marco Iacoboni
Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child by Daniel Goleman
Do you have any tools or tips for empathy in parenting?
Visit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(All the links should be active by noon on Jan. 12. Go to Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama for the most recently updated list.)
• To Yell or Not to Yell — The Adventures of Lactating Girl
• It Is All About Empathy: Nurturing a Toddler’s Compassion Potential — Baby Dust Diaries
• To my babies: this year… — BluebirdMama
• Mindfully Loving My Children — Breastfeeding Moms Unite!
• January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Resolutions — Code Name: Mama
• Imperfect Mother — Consider Eden
• Resolutions — Craphead (aka Mommy)
• FC Mom’s Parenting Resolutions 2010 — FC Mom
• What’s in a Resolution? — Happy Mothering
• January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting resolutions — Hobo Mama
• Natural Parenting Resolutions — Little Green Blog
• This year, I will mostly… — Look Left of the Pleiades
• Parenting Resolutions — The Mahogany Way
• I Resolve to Breastfeed In Public More Often — mama2mama tips
• Moving to Two Kids — Megna the Destroyer
• Use Love — Momopoly
• My parenting resolutions — Musings of a Milk Maker
• Talkin’ ’bout My Resolutions — Navelgazing
• Parenting Resolutions — One Starry Night
• Invitations, not resolutions — Raising My Boychick
• No more multitasking during kid time — The Recovering Procrastinator
• I need to slow down, smell those roses AND the poopy diapers — Tales of a Kitchen Witch Momma
• Resolutely Parenting in 2010 — This Is Worthwhile
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