Development of Empathy in Preschool Children
The ability to empathize enables people to understand the feelings of others, accept people as they are, that everyone can have different opinions, and approach people with understanding. Empathy is a behavior that needs to be learned and taught, especially in the early childhood period. Research says that in order for children to understand the feelings and thoughts of others, they must first be fully aware that they are separate individuals, and this skill develops around 2 years of age. However, acquiring the skill, which we describe as "walking in someone else's shoes" occurs 6-7 years of age. Therefore, interactions between 2 years and 6-7 years of age and the child's acquisition of “me” and “the other” awareness are important in the development of empathy.
Empathy is an important key in establishing healthy social relationships. It is seen that the warm, loving relationship established with the adults who provide basic care in
the early period provides a sense of trust and this sense of trust allows children to think not only of themselves but also of others. On the contrary, negative relationship
experience with adults who provide basic care poses a risk for antisocial behavior. As an early childhood educators or parents can support the child's development of empathy
by using a variety of strategies during your normal daily activities.
What Can You Do to Support Your Child's Empathy Development?
1) Empathetic Language
If you make labels like ‘he's a very annoying person,’ ‘he's a very naughty person,’ when you're talking about someone, the child thinks it's a normal behavior and can label people that way. Instead, children can be encouraged to find the cause under that label. ‘Is he a very annoying person? I wonder if he had a bad day. Maybe he's hungry or tired? Do you remember how you felt when you were hungry and tired?’’
2) Modeling Empathy
You have to show the child what to do instead of telling her what to do. Children of parents who share their feelings, who manage to remain calm, and who continue to speak with sensible explanations may learn empathy more easily, rather than children of parents who shouting and hitting as a result of rudeness encountered in the social environment. Talk to your child about your feelings about those around you and how you share their sadness and happiness. Tell her that you are excited about the happy moments of your relatives or that you feel sorry for their unhappiness.
3) Embrace All Emotions
Children need to be told that there are no good or bad feelings, that all their emotions are important and unique. Many children in preschool use the same words for their feelings, happy or sad. However, often fail to describe exactly how they feel. You must introduce her to words for feelings like “lonely, fed up, angry, cheerful, disappointment, proud, hopeful, anxious, etc." through stories or everyday events. You need to let your child experience every emotion and deal with it. Thanks to this, the child can understand her feelings and then can understand how others feel. 4) Role-Playing
Play is the language of the child. You can use this communication tool to tell the child how the person feels by making them experience a situation and an event. The child will be able to understand her friend who broke her heart during the game or her angry parent. Read or animate stories about some helping behaviors. Conversations on “how to help” in certain situations teach the child the behavior of helping, give insight into appropriate behavior, and help her learn to look at it from the other's perspective.
Visiting people or animals in need of love, such as animal shelters or nursing homes, is crucial to the development of a sense of empathy. The child will understand how the animals, or the elderly people feel, and she develops a sense of gratitude after visiting.