Infants and Toddlers Learn to Help Others, with Guidance from Teachers (page 3)
Recent research shows babies are born with empathy, and one-year-olds have an impulse to help. But infants and toddlers also “are really into themselves,” says Mayra Moreno, a Riverside County family child care provider—which can make it harder for them to learn pro-social behavior like helpfulness and cooperation.
“We lay the foundations,” says Monique Paige, who teaches infant/toddler development at Saddleback College in Orange County. “If a baby is crying, [a toddler] may give her a hug, a toy. You can reinforce that: ‘Look how happy you made her feel.’”
Prosocial skills are “the number one gift you can give a child,” adds Shawn Norman, who teaches 18-month-olds at Orange Coast College Children’s Center. Other skills are “not going to do you [as] much good if you can’t relate to other people.”
It starts with the caregiver
For babies, says Norman, “the caregiver is the curriculum.”
A baby “learns to interact positively with others…[and] form positive relationships with peers,” from early interactions with consistent caregivers who are nurturing, says Jean Barbre of the Orange County Office of Education.
In Moreno’s family child care home, “there are lots of pillows, lots of touching and hugging,” she says. On a recent rainy day, the children “had breakfast on the couch under a blanket.” Then they talk about what they will do that day. “It reduces anxiety,” she adds.
“Be aware of your expectation level” about how children learn pro-social skills, cautions Paige. “If you show them how to pet the cat nicely, tomorrow you’ll have to show them again. Eventually they will internalize it.”
Build sharing into the routine
In Norman’s toddler classroom, “our routines are very social,” she says. Children help at family-style meals: “I see Tiffany is here—let’s give Tiffany a plate.”
Toys encourage cooperation, including “trikes two kids can ride and games like matching cards or playing ball,” Norman adds. Teachers also watch closely and prompt: “‘When you’re done with that, Alicia would like a turn. Please let Alicia know when you’re finished.’ They remember and hand it to her,” she adds.
Children even work together on art pieces. “Someone is doing a painting and someone else paints a big green stripe on it. I’ll say, ‘Hey, you guys are working together!’” If the first child objected, Norman adds, she would protect the painting, “but at this age that hasn’t happened.”
Model empathy and cooperation
If a child is crying because his block structure was knocked down, “I say ‘I understand you’re upset. Maybe I can be your friend and help build it up again. Who wants to help?’” says Moreno. When a child building a house for animals declared, “‘I really need the zebra,’ we all helped look for the zebra,” she says.
When children bite, adds Norman, “we sit really close and say, ‘Look at Brian’s face. He looks so sad.’ You can see wheels turning in their head. I hug Brian, and say, ‘I’m really sorry you’re hurt.’ We do lots of theatrics. [Children] are intently looking at our reactions. It’s im-portant for us to be really calm.”
Do it together
With toddlers, says Paige, “instructions don’t work. You have to be working alongside them: ‘We put blue blocks here and yellow blocks there.’ Children love to help. Have them do it with another friend” to get children used to working together.
“We let children know we value their help,” adds Norman. “‘Let’s do this together!’ ‘Thank you for helping.’ By age two or three it becomes their idea to cooperate.”
Help handle problems
When a child grabs a toy from another, says Norman, “we help the child hand it back: ‘They’re not done with it, you can use this one now and use that one when they’re done.’” The child who grabbed may cry and scream, she adds, but “soon they’ll stop and move on.” Eventually they’ll learn to say, “I’d like to use that when you’re done.”
You can show children “how to make amends,” says Paige, by suggesting a pat on the back or giving the toy back—but toddlers don’t know what “I’m sorry” means.
Moreno helps children learn words to describe their feelings: “I know you’re upset. It’s hard to be away from your family.” This tells them, “I pay attention, you are valued.” She also expresses pro-social values: “It’s nice having friends, being part of a group.”
Recently, Moreno recalls, Rosie snatched a new doll from Elena. Moreno suggested they play together, but Rosie ran away with the doll. “I said to Elena, ‘Let’s go talk to her.’ I’m going to be there, not to solve the problem, but as a support.”
Young children show empathy
- Newborns imitate facial expressions—which means they map expressions to feelings.
- One-year-olds understand the difference between intentional and unintentional actions, and behave in “genuinely altruistic” ways.
- When children see someone express sadness or try to pull apart a tube, they show empathy—feeling sad or trying to help with the tube.
- A series of studies showed fourteen-month-olds try hard to help—climbing over cushions to get a pen for someone, getting upset when others are in pain, but also trying to help.
Source: The Philosophical Baby, by Alison Gopnik, 2009.
For more research:
- Pro-social development research by Ross Thompson, UC Davis, http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/faculty/Thompson/pubs.cfm
- Social development research by Michael Tomasello, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, http://email.eva.mpg.de/~tomas/
For additional resources:
- Infant/Toddler Learning and Development Foundations, Social-Emotional Development Domain, from the California Department of Education, www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/itf09socemodev.asp
- Training module for infant/toddler
caregivers, from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning, www.vanderbilt.edu/csefel/resources/training_infant.html
- Zero to Three, www.zerotothree.org
Respecting Babies, by Ruth Anne Hammond
Focusing on Peers, by Donna Wittmer
- Fill A Bucket, by Carol McCloud and Kathy Martin (Have You Filled a Bucket Today? for younger children)
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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