Does Your Toddler Show Empathy?


When a child pats another child on the back because they are crying or offers a child their binky because they are sad or hands you a toy to help you clean up, that shows that they are recognizing the needs and feeling of others. This is a critical milestone. For some children, this does not emerge until after their second birthday, but some children might show these behaviors as early as 12 months. Try to foster these skills in your 20-month-old. Point out emotions when you see them. If a child is crying, say “that boy is sad.” While reading a book say,”this puppy is happy because he found his friend,” or “this boy is sad because he lost his balloon.”  Make it relate to your child by saying “has that ever happened to you? How did you feel?.”

Our children learn these empathetic skills by watching how we react in situations. Does your toddler see you using eye contact, nodding and smiling while talking to her and other people? Does she see you offering help and support to others? Does she see you using a caring approach with her and other people you interact with? She will adopt the same responses that you use in social situations to demonstrate empathy. By modeling positive behaviors, you are teaching her how to respond to other people.


National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2011). Children’s emotional development is built into the architecture
of their brains: Working paper no. 2
(Updated ed.). Retrieved from uploads/2004/04/Childrens-Emotional-Development-Is-Built-into-the-Architecture-of-Their-Brains.pdf (Original work published 2004)

Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. (n.d.). Five numbers to remember about early childhood. Retrieved from Remember-About-Early-Childhood-Development.pdf

Zero to Three, The Growing Brain