Ten Tips for Raising More Compassionate Infants and Toddlers

Did you know that infants and toddlers are far more empathetic than we once thought?

By Anne E. Mead, Ed. D.

While they have short fuses and don’t cope well with sharing, they are capable of being compassionate. Here are ten tips to help infants and toddlers become pro-social.

  1. Be respectful, patient, and loving to your infants and toddlers as they imitate what they see. Model saying “please” and “thank you,” a gentle touch, using your words, helping them to clean up, and sharing their things.
  2. Read books about feelings with positive social interactions and discuss them. If your

child watches television, watch too, and talk about the situations and emotions that happen in the shows. Limit the use of mobile devices to entertain as many put in commercials that do not show the behaviors we are looking to develop. 

  1. When things are upsetting your toddler, you can engage your inner child. Use a doll or puppet to help your child explore feelings and perspectives. For example, the puppet may say, “I don’t want to take a bath!” You respond to the puppet, “You sound mad – you don’t like baths!

I wonder what things could make bath-time fun?”

  1. When people are upset, model compassion – talk about the problem and offer help: “That boy fell off the climber; let’s go see if he’s ok! 
  2. Model gently touching pets and guide toddlers who are rough by placing your hand over theirs to show them a “gentle touch.” 
  3. Point out when harm has been done and suggest ways to make things better. Point out a child’s sad face. Name the emotion the child is feeling: “You were mad, but when you hit him, it hurt. He’s sad. See his tears? Let’s help him get some ice.” 
  4. When conflict breaks out, stay calm and support your child’s feelings. Offer solutions by staying close to the child. It helps to use the same solutions each time. 
  5. Point out kindness to others: “He liked it when you gave him the flower. See his smile?” 
  6. Involve your child in home tasks like cooking or regifting a toy to a new sibling. You can suggest: “This salad will taste so good; thank you for tearing up the lettuce!” or “I bet the new baby will like that bunny – it’s so nice of you to give away the toys you are too big to use.”
  7. Stay close and guide your children as they navigate the complex world of feelings. Babies and toddlers will have strong feelings, make mistakes, feel possessive, seek autonomy, and struggle to control their impulses. Expect them to try, and to make mistakes along the way. Respect that people may need time to get calm and composed before they are willing to talk about upsetting things. Offer understanding and a solution: “You got so mad you threw the cup. Next time, you can hand it to me.”

Committing to teaching social skills to children that don’t “get it” creates a better community for everyone.

(Materials shared from NAEYC for Families website)

Anne E. Mead, Ed. D. is the Director of Family, School & Community Partnerships for Danbury Public Schools. She can be reached at 203-830-6508 or by email at meadan@danburyu.k12.ct.us.