Nanny in NYC

A modern day Mary Poppins

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Warm Fuzzies

I've been thinking a lot this week about empathy and how it is slowly developing in my little Lukester. The kid has an unusually sensitive head and doing things like washing behind his ears and cleaning off his sticky face are always a chore. Now that he has a huge mop of hair (that mommy doesn't want to part with just yet) hair brushing has become a daily headache. Yesterday I had the brilliant idea of letting him brush my hair before I tried to go to work on him, so that he'd see that it's not an "Owwie-owwie!" as he'd been insisting it was.

Big mistake.

The first time I brought the hair brush, with both our hands on the handle, toward my head he looked at me, shocked. The second time he screamed out "No, Annie! Owwie-owwie!" and pulled the brush away from my head. Then he threw it in the bathtub.

It really got me thinking about the little guy and how much more he's aware of these days. We still have a great deal of trouble getting him to not hit his brothers and sister, especially Drew, but all in all he's really developed a sense of the people around him and how they have feelings separate and different than his emotions. I started doing a bit of research about how empathy develops in infants and it brought back a lot of very sweet memories from the time when Luke truly was a baby.

I found an Australian site simply called Raising Children which gave a nice break down of the early stages of empathy development. Reading it convinced me that Luke is way above the curve when it comes to his emotional progress (as he is with so many things, of course). According to the site, at around 13 months
more than half the children had tried to hug, pat, or touch another person when they were showing distress. Scientists call this "pro-social behaviour" which means that they not only responded to the emotion they saw, but they made an attempt to help the other person feel better. This doesn't mean that children this young showed empathy all the time--they didn't--but it shows some early signs of empathy.
This made me remember April of last year, when Luke was only seven months old, and I had my worst day ever. I came into work bleary eyed and groggy, having been up crying all night after breaking up with my boyfriend of almost two years. In retrospect it was amazing that I made it into work at all, but I guess I knew that ultimately I'd feel better with something to occupy my mind. Not only did I feel better, but when I went into Luke's bedroom to get him up for the morning he looked me right in the eye and then put his hand up against my cheek. He patted me gently while holding my gaze as if to say, "Everything's going to be all right, Annie." We spent most of that day cuddling together, and not only did work occupy my mind, but Luke's sudden and unusual concern was truly healing.

Of course, other things are developing in Luke right along with the empathy. Things like jealousy and anger and greed, but those are emotions we all share, so I guess I won't begrudge him his share of those as well. Especially as he's the youngest of four, the kid will need to be able to stand up for himself as much as he needs to understand his tormenters--oh, I mean siblings.

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Anonymous Betti said...

One of my favorite memories from my teenage years: I was babysitting a sweet-tempered 10 month old girl, and we had both worn ourselves out from being hyper all afternoon. Every attempt at putting her down to nap in her crib resulted in defiant screaming as if to say "nooooooo! we were having such a good time!" Fastforward a hour, and I've nodding off while sitting in a huge lazyboy chair, with a sleeping baby in my arms. I woke up because she was cooing and giggling while slapping me on my face.

10:26 AM  
Blogger pinknest said...

oh, that's such a sweet vision. i have to say i am also very intrigued by these gestures of empathy in children, and even animals.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Alice said...


You're quite right.

If he didn't have jealously, anger or any other flaws, he wouldn't be human, would he?

He's lucky to have someone like you to show him how to overcome those qualities and develop the finer aspects of himself with in.

Children and animals tend to be noticibly more empathic and sensitive to feelings than adults, I've found; especially feelings of distress. They simply seem more atuned to it. Maybe it's because their emotions are still so new, so raw...I'm not certain why, at any rate. It just seems that they are.

Take care, both of you, and have a great weekend.


6:34 AM  

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