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When do children learn to empathise?

(20 Posts)
mankymummymoo Sun 04-Oct-09 16:26:02

I dont know if im totally out of order here because DS is my only child, but he seems to be totally without empathy after the first 10 seconds of sorry. He thinks he can just repeat bad behaviour and say sorry and that makes it ok.

Even in an instance where someone he hurt was actually crying, after saying sorry, patting her shoulder etc., after about 10 seconds he just left her crying and went on to play with something else. this is someone he is very, very close to.

I have tried explaining that saying sorry doesnt make everything right, that he needs to not be naughty or horrible in the first place but I think I must be using the wrong words because he just doesnt get it.

Am I expecting too much? He is 4+2.


paranoidandconfused Sun 04-Oct-09 16:46:47

dd is exactly like this infact she went through a phase of apologising before she hurt someone grin

I think that it's just something that comes with age tbh....I hope

Niecie Sun 04-Oct-09 16:55:01

I think you might be expecting too much.

If he said sorry I think this is the best you can hope for. He wouldn't be able to cope with continuing to make the other child feel better. As far as he is concerned he has said sorry and probably doesn't realise that he needs to do anything else.

Comforting is a difficult social skill to master. Children can often go too far one way or the other - either, like your son, saying sorry and then leaving (probably partly because he feels bad and doesn't want to confront the situation any more) or worse, imo, are the children to won't leave the other child alone and wants to keep giving hugs. The last thing a child who has been hurt really wants - hugs from the person who hurt them. They want some distance.

Children aren't thought to have theory of mind (the ability to put themselves in somebody else's shoes and see things from their perspective) until the age of about 5. Your DS isn't quite there yet. I wouldn't worry too much - he will get there.

RealityBites Sun 04-Oct-09 16:56:41

Message withdrawn

slowreadingprogress Sun 04-Oct-09 17:49:01

yes you are expecting way too much

Empathy is a childhood-long learning thing imho, even at teenage empathy can still be missing!

My ds is 7, like Reality's and he too has only really this year been able to show genuine upset on someone else's behalf.

I think it is one of those things that comes and goes a bit really, but children are selfish beings; they're hard wired to be, in 'cave man' terms it ensures that their needs are taken note of so that they can grow to adulthood safely

I think it is unfair and likely to be confusing to him to say that sorry doesn't make it all better, etc; he's only 4, still naturally impulsive and naturally self centred (which as i've said is more a developmental 'need' than a character flaw) I personally think he does need to feel sorry can make it better.

mankymummymoo Sun 04-Oct-09 17:49:33

thanks so much that really helps. was beginning to imagine all sorts of things for the future... him being serial killer etc. blush wink

LadyGlencoraPalliser Sun 04-Oct-09 17:57:48

When DD1 was that age I was convinced she was a sociopath after an incident where DD2 hurt herself badly and DD1 just stuck her fingers in her ears and said "make her stop crying mummy". Empathy was very much not her middle name for quite a long time. She is now 12 and a lovely, caring person.

DD is about to turn 8 and has only just understood the meaning of empathy, it is still a real effort for her to empathise, but she understands the concept much better now.

DS1 is a natural empathiser.

In my opinion some children have it in bucketfuls and for others it is a learnt concept. Just as you find some adults are good at it and others not. smile

However I agree with the others that your ds is still very small, so don't worry about it too much just yet. smile

smugmumofboys Sun 04-Oct-09 18:07:48

It definitely depends on th echild. DS2 is 5 and is so caring and full of empathy it's heart-melting. DS1 is 7 and still struggles to see things from anyone else's perspective.

slowreadingprogress Sun 04-Oct-09 19:07:17

also another thing that's useful imo is to not put your focus on telling them about empathy

It's one of those things where they learn best from watching adults and modelling their behaviour on what they see. so the more empathy we show them, the more they pick it up, imho

mankymummymoo Sun 04-Oct-09 19:44:59

thanks everyone.

slowreading... yes i thought that today, i need to back off and let him see it for himself rather than trying to see he should be feeling bad about what he's done.

nice to know there's such a spectrum - isnt it the case that all stages are like that though, you just dont know until you've got to that stage !

Ivykaty44 Sun 04-Oct-09 19:46:24

they learn it or a bit and then it dissapears till about 16-17 if your lucky

TeenyTinyToria Sun 04-Oct-09 19:59:06

Ds is 2.7 and can be very empathetic and caring. Varies with his mood though!

rachyh85 Sun 04-Oct-09 20:20:50

my dd is 2+4 and if she does somethng to upset a child - taking a toy or something, she will either give toy back as soon as she sees its caused upset, or go choose another toy and give that to them. with regards to adults, she kisses them better and hangs around them for a while before going off to play again. shes very caring and so gentle with others. however i know 5 yr olds who couldnt give a monkeys whether they make someone cry or not... guess it depends on the child.

rabbitstew Mon 05-Oct-09 22:31:44

Count yourself lucky your ds will at least say sorry! You can immediately see the shock and upset on my ds1's face (age 5) when he realises something he's done has upset another child, but it tends to result in his getting very upset and defiant, refusing to apologise and generally being very difficult until he's calmed down - at which point he will apologise, but this is generally some time later, when it's frankly a bit too late. The fact that you can see the look of shock on his face straight afterwards reveals that he does feel bad about what he's done (and not just bad about the trouble he'll be in), but he doesn't know how to deal with the bad feeling it creates in a constructive way (or at least, not until he's had a chance to calm down). I like to console myself that at least this shows he doesn't like hurting others, even if he can't yet react in an appropriate way to the consequences of his actions! His little brother (3) is far better at empathy - he seems to understand that a self-defence reaction is not appropriate and his concern for the other child's feelings is strong enough to overcome the impulse to protect himself.

doggus Mon 05-Oct-09 23:49:33

My ds was 1.7 when I had a horrible miscarriage at home and he caught me crying and screaming - he ran over and held me, patting me and saying 'aahh'. It was so sweet but a bit of a one-off! One of his 2 year old friends now is just naturally empathetic and a peacemaker - if my ds is crying he will run up and offer him a toy. I very much agree with slowreading, that it comes and goes. DS has seen my crying once since and didn't give a monkey's!!

TeenyTinyToria Tue 06-Oct-09 00:54:35

That's so sweet that he was looking after you, doggus. My ds was very concerned about me when I was bleeding after this birth - he kept patting his tummy and saying "I've got my bleeding, have to lie down with mummy". Very cute.

Sakura Tue 06-Oct-09 07:47:45

So glad to read this thread. My DD 3.1 willfully hurts her baby brother (biting, etc- once I saw her almost poke him in the eye on purpose!) What upsets me the most is that she does seem to sort of understand that it hurts him because she gets this smug look on her face when he cries sad.
ITs the smug look of pleasure that upsets mem more than her actually hurting him. So, they do grow out of it, then?

Sakura Tue 06-Oct-09 07:50:17

LOL at LadyGLencora convinced her DD was a sociopath. THis was me last week!
So nice to hear your DD has grown up into a lovely child.

doggus Tue 06-Oct-09 22:06:00

teenytiny your ds is so lovely, I think he wanted an excuse to lie down and cuddle mummy!

sakura - my ds (2.4) used to bite loads and get that smug look, sometimes he would even laugh...and I had just finished reading We Need to Talk about Kevin, AAAGH. Everyone reassured me it was just a stage and I didn't believe them until a month ago dh and I looked at each other and realised he had stopped biting and hasn't done it again since.

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