Teaching Kindness

Toddlers Can Consider Others


I encourage parents and grandparents to begin introducing the concept of others long before a child reaches age four. Your own personal examples of kindness provide your child with the most effective way to learn. By patiently explaining, you begin to emphasize the importance of others as separate beings. The foundation for a concept of others can begin even during the important “me” stage of emotional development.

 

Story: A Toddler at a Birthday Party


Imagine taking your two-year-old to her friend’s birthday party. As you and your toddler walk in, she peers with big brown worried eyes from behind your legs. One thumb is firmly planted in your toddler’s mouth. Her other hand clings to your skirt. You worry about how this party will go for her.

Suddenly, seeing the pile of gifts, your toddler’s face lights up. She points to the gifts as she releases your skirt and hurries toward the brightly wrapped presents. You realize with panic that she has no way to understand that the party and all the gifts are for her friend. This two-year-old toddler exists in her age-appropriate me-world.

You step forward and get on her eye level to explain, “This party is for Ellen’s birthday. These are Ellen’s gifts. In a short time, we will have a birthday party just for you.”

Immediately, her eyes drop, and her lower lip trembles as she quietly continues to slowly edge toward the gifts. Even though you realize she will not be capable of grasping the idea that everything she sees belongs to Ellen, you just planted the idea of others. You may want to add, “I know this feels sad for you. Do you want to tell me or show me how sad you feel?”

As Mom recalls buying a little gift for Ellen, she scolds herself: I should have bought a lot of gifts for my own child to open. She could have enjoyed them before the party or maybe she could have opened her gifts at the same time as Ellen. That would have made her happy. Although the thought seems loving, this idea is way over the top. Imagine all the parties in this child’s future. Is Mom going to buy multiple presents for her child every time she attends a birthday party?

As Mom wonders how she can redirect her toddler, she notices children playing in the yard. Pointing out the window, she suggests, “Look, sweetheart. Some of the children are playing outside. Let’s check out the fun.” Mom successfully redirects her daughter away from the gifts to the children playing in the yard.

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