When JJ was a baby, parenting was almost a no brainer since I read about attachment parenting and was sold on it instantly. I held him so much in a carrier during the first 6 months. It made up for the time missed when he was at daycare. It helped him sleep better. It really created a bond between us. After a while, I noticed soothing him was a lot easier since he got used to me holding him either in a baby carrier or in my arms. I also noticed that holding a baby consciously was much different than just hold him. When I talked to him, gave him attention, attended to his needs while holding him, he would just look up at me so very peacefully. It reminded me of the days after he was born where I held him 24 hours of the day.
When JJ turned 6 months old and started to be very curious about his environment, I decided to put together a plan to instill empathy into him. I was told that kids don’t have empathy until after toddlerhood. I never believed that. When JJ looked at me in the carrier when I held him, I could sense that he understood my feelings as if he could feel them himself. When I was stressed, he would cry more. When I was happy, he would be more peaceful.
After some trial and error, these are the 5 ways that I used to instill empathy into JJ. In fact, his toddlerhood has been much easier because of the ground work set at 6 months onwards. I highly recommend any parents try these out. JJ listens more to me and ended up with a much more solid connection to me. He would respond to my stares as I communicated to him with my eyes or my body language. When tantrums happen, it was much easier to reconnect afterwards using these familiar techniques.
Mom and Baby Yoga
I started doing yoga with him at the 6 months mark. I would carry him in the baby carrier and we would do some safe poses together. We did this over a mirror so that he could see himself and me as we did the poses together. Soon enough, I also did some light Zumba dances carrying him. He would laugh and giggle after a while. When he got older, we did poses together on the mat. Downward dog is such a favorite of his, since I would let him crawl in my tunnel and then give him a little kiss at the end. We did our yoga routine consistently and especially after daycare pickups every day. It helped him to release the any emotional exhaustion from the day.
Nature Walks and Feeding Animals
You might not think of anything when you pop your baby into the stroller for a walk. But, he’s paying attention. We walked in the park whenever possible. Sometimes, we did it immediately after daycare pickup. The nature was extremely soothing for him. When he had eating issues, I would introduce new foods on the stroller. Nature really helped him eat in those days. He also got very excited to see the ducks at the pond and follow dog walkers to see the dogs. During walks, I taught him how to gentle touch living animals and plants. I really believe that a love of nature will translate to the love of humanity later on when done right.
As a single mom, I don’t have the luxury of asking someone else to take care of JJ. Very often, I would put him in a safe place next to me so that we can get house work done together. When I vacuumed, he followed me around or was carried in a baby carrier; When I cooked, he’s often next to me at the kitchen sink working on his water transfer; When I did the laundry, he helped put dirty clothes in the washer. When he turned 13 months old, he started wanting to wipe with me. So, we would wipe all his toys. Then, we wiped the car together. We even wiped windows sometimes. Incredibly, at 2.5 years old, he hates getting anything dirty. When it’s dirty, he always asks for a wipe. When we are at the bathroom, he always asks to wash. Respect is being instilled in a baby who imitates house work. There’s an incredible “doing it together” feeling that comes from working together side by side.
Putting away toys after playing
I made a separate item for this because it’s probably the most effective in instilling empathy in a baby. It concerns his beloved toys in his ownership. He can experience how good it feels to have a clean play room. At my place, often, it’s impossible to have toys all picked up. But, always, JJ reminds me that there’s a mess by pointing to it. Then, I remind him that we need to clean it up together. Repeating this over some time, I was surprised to find him putting away his toys without me reminding him.
Minding other children at playgrounds, play spaces and on play dates
Even when he was a baby, I made a point to take him out to many social places. Even if he laid on a blanket and played with his feet, we still went. Each time, we encountered other kids, I was very proactive to the point of annoyingly helicoptering to show him the following skills.
- When you want to play with something another kid has already, just go and see if there’s another one around.
- When another kid wants what you have, get a toy of the same kind and give to that other kid.
- When dragging toys around, watch out for other people especially babies who are near.
- Pay attention to mom’s words and check in when unsure.
- When playing with other kid’s toys, always to know that they are other kid’s toys, so we will let it go afterwards and say thank you.
- When we are at sandbox with our toys, we always bring extras and share.
- When performing physical fiats at public places, we do it safely. That means, we check to see if anyone can be hurt by what we do.
- We always take turns without exception at a public place.
I know you are thinking this mom’s crazy. How can a baby get all this? But, we started early at one and it really worked. At 2.5 years old. Sometimes I still shout at him my cues so that he’s reminded of what’s the proper way to behave. I also think he will regress a bit when the toddler defiance kicks in at 3 years old. But, he does it all now. He’s also gotten a lot gentler with me at home as well. It may seem impossible sometimes, but I’m a firm believer in the fact that you can teach your baby just about anything. Their minds are such sponges. Empathy is such an important skill to teach a child. I have it on top of my list.
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