How well does your four year-old show empathy?

(18 Posts)
mamsnet Sat 02-Oct-10 15:51:27

This is something I've been mulling over for a while. My DD is almost four and a half and very clever in some ways, very scatter brained in others. The problem is that (not in a material way, I might add) she seems to be very self centred.
Twice this week she has woken up screaming that she wants to get up, waking up her younger brother and causing everybody to have avery fraught start to their day.
She is useless (lazy?) at looking for things and will whimper and whinge til I (in theory, help her) find whatever it is, regardless of what I am doing at the time.

I do realise as I write this down that you are probably all going to tell me that this is typical four year old behaviour.. but, is it really?
Surely she should be capable of showing some empathy for others' needs and wants at this stage.

Your thoughts are welcome.

Message withdrawn

mamsnet Sat 02-Oct-10 15:57:05

Wow! That was quick!

No, I don't really. She does tick all the Highly Sensitive Child boxes and I know sometimes she sort of gets herself into a situation where she gets blocked by the strength of her own emotions.. but nothing too serious.

I just worry that maybe I should be doing something more to help her along, and not pandering too much..

Message withdrawn

warthog Sat 02-Oct-10 16:26:10

don't think it's an age thing.

my 4.5 is like yours. my 2 yo is unbelievably compassionate and kind. always puts others first.

one day they'll learn.

I was going to post a similar thread. My dd is 3.5 and has great empathy. Obviously, she has moments of selfishness but, even as a baby, if another child was crying/upset, it would upset her and she would want to know why. The best way for me to get her to do anything (share toys/play nicely etc.) is to tell her that she will make other people sad if she doesn't.

DSD on the other hand is almost 7 and has almost no empathy whatsoever. We are having real problems with her being "too cool" to play with dd at the moment and because dd absolutely adores her, she gets very upset by it. She even says things like "My big sister doesn't like me very much does she ? I annoy her". This can be in front of dsd and it doesn't bother her at all sad. She also laughs if dd or ds (or any child) hurts themselves or gets told off for something angry

I am assuming/hoping she will learn to have more empathy as she gets older but I fear it may be a personality thing. I find it very difficult to deal with

mamsnet Sat 02-Oct-10 20:51:05

The angle of it being her personality is interesting.. if a little sad

Tillyscoutsmum I think it's quite typical to very self-centred at 7, actually. Their personality really is kicking in then..

Anybody else?

girliefriend Sat 02-Oct-10 21:04:11

Sounds completely normal to me, imo and I can certainly remember this being true of me as a child, most children are fundamentally selfish and believe parents are there just to meet their every need!!! This does not however mean they will grow into selfish adults, I didn't (at least I hope not - Im a nurse!) children learn empathy by being shown love, care and consideration. I think you can help this along by talking about feelings and how other people maybe feeling, also by them seeing you empathising with them for example ' I can see that is making you feel really cross, happy, sad etc' However saying all that, if my dd was waking me up at night I would be very cross (she is also 4!) Has she recently started school? Ive found my dd has been playing me up more than usual and been more clingy at bedtime since starting school!

mamsnet Sat 02-Oct-10 21:10:04

Thanks girliefriend. smile

She has recently started back at school (different system here) so I suppose she might well be a little thrown by the return to routine after a relaxed Summer.

I do try all the talking about feelings etc but I swear sometimes I think she just zones out grin

She does cry if her little brother is in distress though so she can't be all that bad! grin

mamsnet - sorry, forgot to say that I think your dd's behaviour sounds totally normal. My dd does show great empathy in certain situations but will still expect me to drop everything to help her with something and whinge if I don't.

My dsd has always been the same (I have been her step mum since she was 15 months old). I suppose its very difficult for her because she is an only child at her mum's house and when she comes to us, she is suddenly expected to share toys, time and attention (and she obviously knows that her half siblings have her dad all the time and she doesn't which, I know from being a step child, can be a horrible feeling sad). I think it is the lack of upset if anyone is in distress which concerns me the most sad

cory Sun 03-Oct-10 13:26:13

I think you are wrong to assume that everything she does to annoy you shows a lack of empathy:

partly because we annoy each other and still wouldn't like it to be called a lack of empathy: dh is rubbish at finding things too- but that doesn't make him a cold man, just slightly pathetic; my children frequently find me annoying- doesn't make me a cold mother; I expect you sometimes moan to friends or a partner- does that mean you don't care about them?

partly because that is putting the burden of your emotional wellbeing on her- it is not for her to make you feel happy, that is your job or possibly your partner's

Whining is annoying (if very typical of this age group) and should be dealt with briskly, but it's got nothing to do with empathy.

Lack of empathy is things like hurting somebody and then laughing. Things like Tilly mentions I would say might denote a late development of empathy (but not necessarily that it never will develop).

I would not talk about feelings every time she misbehaves or annoys you; that sounds a little like emotional blackmail to me. Save the feelings talk for when she is actually hurting someone or being deliberately rude or unkind. At all other times, the brisk approach is best: "No darling, I can't help you, you'll have to look yourself, but remember there is a no-whining rule in this house".

mamsnet Sun 03-Oct-10 14:27:57

Thanks Cory, in fact we do have the "no whinging" rule.. smile

And we don't do the "feelings talk" every time! grin

She doesn't actually hurt anybody deliberately or anything so severe. What she does do is seem to assume that her needs at any given moment outweigh mine every time..

I was never worried that there was any lack of social understanding or anything more sinister. I think my concern was really more about whether I was just dealing with the issues each time and not working enough on a longer term strategy of thinking of others too..

I don't think my OP was much good, actually..

cory Sun 03-Oct-10 14:52:14

tbh I think it is a case of dealing with them again and again until it gradually sinks in- I don't think you can find a strategy that is magically going to make her want to behave all of a sudden

in most areas, children need to learn to behave long before they are actually able to internalise their behaviour and understand why it is wrong or why it would upset other people or how they come across to other people

my dd at 13 is just about old enough to understand how she comes across to other people and want to stop herself sounding silly- she is more or less thinking like a grownup and can hear what she sounds like to other people

my 10yo is not quite there, so he has to be made to behave or at least reminded what the rules are

I suppose you could say that dd has got to an age where she doesn't really need the rules because she has internalised them- ds hasn't

mamsnet Sun 03-Oct-10 14:58:36

Thanks a million for that, Cory..

DH is away this weekend (hence Sunday MNing) and I suppose I have too much thinking time on my hands smile

cory Sun 03-Oct-10 15:34:35

If it's any consolation, I found the age of 3 and 4 absolutely exhausting and yes, it was the whining that wore me down. Every age after that has been easier.

I posted something similar when dd was 5 (now aged 9). I found her very hard work, very emotional, very smart yet totally self absorbed and what I considered to be lacking in empathy, both towards her family members and her friends.

Many replied back by saying that empathy is more natural in some than others. Other people have to work hard at it.

Empathy is a great social advantage to have but it doesn't mean that those for whom it doesn't come naturally can't learn to have it too. We (and school) have worked hard with dd to get her to stop and think about how other people feel/react to her actions and to get her to realise there is a consequence to all her actions. She certainly wasn't being vindictive or malicious, she was doing what comes naturally, which is for many people like her, being a leader. grin

mamsnet Mon 04-Oct-10 12:57:44

Thanks for that Themaster.. I have often thought that we have a leader on our hands!

It's interesting too.. because my DH, whilst wonderful wink may well be one of those people who just has to work at showing empathy! As for his parents.. shock

Well, if it's genetic I'm rightly fucked grin hmm

BigOfNoorks Mon 04-Oct-10 14:41:52

I think it is dependant on the child ds age 4.6 will give anything to stop dd 14months stop crying if she is crying and I am busy( you know hands covered in toxin)and cannot come immediately he will cry that she is scared or hungry and needs me. I often worried that he was to empathic. He seems to understand more than he should about others feelings I have always been very scared for him and worried that I have done something wrong sad.

He never stands up for himself he lets children walk all over him but if he sees someone take a toy off another child he will tell them off. There is a boy in DS who hits all the children and some of the boys wont go to school unless ds is going because he wont let him hit them.

My sister however age 9 does not care about anyone's feelings but her own. She wants to play downstairs and DS wants to play upstairs so they spend 30minutes down and 30 minutes up. Even though ds will be crying to go up and she has had her turn she will say no I am not going up. I think it is just different qualities. She is not vindictive or nasty just seems to lack understanding about others feelings we do the feelings talk though.

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