Empathy and the subsequent kindness that can stem from it are traits that we all hope to instill in our kiddos.  Here at ABBY&FINN, it’s so important to us to empathize with others and give back where we can that we’ve made it part of our company’s foundation and mission statement.  While it’s hard to imagine empathy in your little one as you watch him rip the the coveted Thomas car from another toddler at the library’s train table, rest assured that empathy is a life skill that takes some time to build.  Toddlerhood is often when children begin to realize that they have their own thoughts and feelings and that those ideas and emotions may be different from those of others around him.  Because of this awareness, it’s a great time to begin laying the groundwork for empathy.  And Valentine’s Day when we are thinking of others and showing our love and gratitude for them is a great day to start.

Some key ideas to remember when thinking of how to teach your toddler ways to empathize and give back are to remember to start small.  Help your kiddo recognize the emotions of those around him or her.  Make note of what others might be feeling and give labels to those emotions to raise your kiddo’s awareness.  Look how that little boy is so happy to see his mommy - he’s giving her a big smile and hug!  Or, I think that little girl is crying because she’s frustrated that her block tower keeps falling down. Should we ask if she’d like help?  Pause when reading books and talk with your little one about what emotions the character in the story may be feeling and why.  Ask your kiddo if he’s ever felt the same way and when in order to help him feel connected to the character’s emotions.  Empathy is complex for a toddler to grasp and it’s good to start small.

Another important step is to make sure to empathize with your own child.  This not only validates his or her feelings and helps develop a safe bond between you two, but it is also great modeling of behavior you’d like to encourage in your kiddo.  Oftentimes, our best and worst habits are caught by rather than taught to our children so leading by example is key.  Did you throw your truck because it was frustrating to make it drive?  Would you like to work together to fix it?  Or, are you feeling sad because Grandma had to leave?  You can sit in my lap until you feel better.  Drawing clear and direct connections between actions and the subsequent feelings they cause offers a clear correlation for toddlers to begin to see and understand.  When they understand it better in themselves, they can then transfer those same ideas to others.

And most importantly, be patient!  Empathy is a highly complicated skill.  I could probably name a few adults who need a little more work with it!  Expect that your kiddos will need lots of practice and offering them plenty of opportunities to do so will only help.  So take this Valentine’s Day when we naturally think of others and maybe pick a few ideas from the list below to try out with your kiddo to practice empathy and kindness!

For Family and Friends:

  • Send a thoughtful card
  • Make play dough for friends
  • Help make dinner
  • Give someone an unexpected hug
  • Bake dessert for the neighbors
  • Draw a picture for an elderly neighbor
  • Bring up your neighbor’s garbage cans
  • Leave bubbles on your friend’s doorstep
  • Tell a joke to make a friend laugh
  • Help shovel snow

For Your Community:

  • Hold the door open for someone
  • Dry the slides at the park after the rain
  • Say hello to the people you see
  • Leave kindness stones in the park
  • Invite someone to play on the playground
  • Donate a book to the doctor’s office waiting room
  • Draw a cheerful picture on the neighborhood sidewalk
  • Pass out stickers to kids waiting in line
  • Donate outgrown clothes to a child who needs them
  • Tell someone why they are special to you
  • Place a happy drawing or note in a library book
  • Donate kid-friendly snacks to the local food pantry

For Mother Earth:

  • Plant flowers in the community garden
  • Make a bird feeder
  • Pick up litter at a favorite park
  • Ride a bike or walk instead of driving in the car
  • Make an art project out of recyclables