Empathy in young children

Well I think he’s got some. Or maybe empathy is the wrong term. Maybe it’s something all together different. The point is, he is AWARE that other people have feelings. And although I’ve noticed this before, obviously, for some reason, this particular recent event sticks to my brain more than any other time.

We’ve all heard of toddlers, our own or someone else, who, when Mommy is sick, she runs off to find a favorite stuffed toy or smelly blanket to ‘make you feel AAWW better soon’. It starts early, this emotion toward someone they love, and that’s a good thing.

What happened with my 5 year old was just the cutest thing. It involves a girl, and Valentine’s day, but not at all in the way one might expect.

Sure, some parents have told me that their son’s know girls in class who seem to like them, or who use terminology like “I’m your girlfriend” or “we are going to get married”. It’s cute when kids in Kindergarten talk this way (and I’m extremely glad that Benjamin never said such a thing, all the same).

But there is one girl in his class who is several things to Ben. She’s a bit of a tomboy, partly because she has an older brother, and partly because her best friends were twin boys (who have since moved away). With many of the other boys having changed school, this girl attached herself to Benjamin, not in a romantic way, but in a playful way. She’s one of few girls who isn’t all about princesses and girly-girly stuff (although she does have some of that too).

With Valentine’s day recently celebrated at school, and cards shared with everyone in class, I encourage my kids make their own, like I usually do.

All the cards they made were the same. But Benjamin’s pile had one card that stood out:

The one on the bottom has two hearts.

I said ‘you put two hearts on one card, did you do this on purpose?’ and he said ‘yes, it’s for Lorelai’.

Well isn’t that cute.

But it’s not the cute part I am trying to make a point about.

On Valentine’s day, when I picked him up at lunch, I asked him how the card exchange went. He surprised me completely when he said this:

Everyone got their card. The teacher got hers first. But I told Lorelai very quietly that she was the only one who got two hearts on her card.

I said ‘really, why did you say it quietly?’

And he said:

I didn’t want to make the other children feel bad.

What a cute boy.


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