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This is a question I have been thinking about a lot lately. My toddler doesn’t seem to understand this concept.

Hitting… hurts. Biting… hurts. Kicking… hurts. And no matter what I do I can’t seem to teach him these lessons. This all exploded the other night. It wasn’t a pretty scene.

Big brother was having a tough night. He hadn’t napped and was therefore just not able to control himself, both good and bad actions were out of control. In his zest for life and outofcontrolness he went to give Little Sister a kiss and was quite rough about it. When I told him it was too hard and to back away a bit as his sister was crying. He got upset. As he backed away he grabbed her pacifier. At this I tried to take it away, telling him it was hers. He insisted through frustration that he (independent boy that he is) could give it back to her himself. He has done this successfully before, so I relented, not wanting yet another battle for the night. This is where it went downhill, and fast. He reached the pacifier for her, then abruptly dropped it and scratched her face, with all his fingers, across her eyes. I immediately yanked him away. She started screaming, and he started crying. Her little face was bright red from crying and she had 2 really minute scratches. As I scooped her up, fear started rushing through me that he had damaged her eyes. They were both screaming at this point, and he insisted I hold him, because I had hurt his arm pulling him away so quickly. Here I am sitting on the floor of the kitchen with two screaming children. Thankfully I could see that he did not get to her eyes, just above them. He calms down and starts running around. I am completely overwhelmed that could not feel anything, and was joyful. Emotions start rushing by about how awful this whole thing is and I start to cry too. So here I am still on the floor, crying with a screaming infant and a toddler that is now running around saying “I rip her face” repeatedly. He felt no remorse for either of us crying. And where did he get the idea that he rips her? And what if he never learns remorse? I was totally overwhelmed. When he ran over again, I told him to stay away out of fear, which of course made me feel even more awful for turning him away.  Sadly D walked into the aftermath. The night did end well and Big Brother apologized for upsetting me after D explained to him that he upset mommy and hurt Little Sister. Little Sister was completely fine, and the next day was better again…

The thing that gets me is that he really really loves his little sister. He tries to share his toys with her, pats her head when she cries and generally shows no signs of jealousy.

So my question is this: Can toddlers and compassion truly coexist, or do we have to wait for them to grow up a bit more?

 
  • Karen_7lee

    I think the answer to your question is that we start to teach compassion when they are toddlers.  Then we continue to teach compassion when they are preschoolers.  We go on through the school years, and we really hope we they are on their way to it by the time they are teens!

    It’s not too early to teach it, but I think I wouldn’t expect to see the fruit of it quickly…  My boy is 5, and we are still working on it.  He would now be gentle with a baby, he understands appropriate behavior… but would he be “compassionate” in an unfamilar setting?  He has learned appropriate behavior, but true compassion is not a set of “rules” for cordial living, it is caring deeply about the feelings of others.  That is hard to teach.  It is hard to model.   

    And in all honesty, isn’t compassion something that many adults have not yet learned, or maybe never will?  And isn’t it something that we parents continue to learn…?  Compassion is not easy for any of us.  After all, it is “easy” to feel sad when we see pictures of starving children, but it is difficult to care for a mean neighbour who gets sick a lot and needs our help, grouching at us all the while…  So we all continue to learn a deeper compassion as life goes along.

    Take heart, though, he will come along.  He will learn to be gentle with his sister, and over a few years he might even get to the point where he is protective of her.

  • Karen_7lee

    I think the answer to your question is that we start to teach compassion when they are toddlers.  Then we continue to teach compassion when they are preschoolers.  We go on through the school years, and we really hope we they are on their way to it by the time they are teens!

    It’s not too early to teach it, but I think I wouldn’t expect to see the fruit of it quickly…  My boy is 5, and we are still working on it.  He would now be gentle with a baby, he understands appropriate behavior… but would he be “compassionate” in an unfamilar setting?  He has learned appropriate behavior, but true compassion is not a set of “rules” for cordial living, it is caring deeply about the feelings of others.  That is hard to teach.  It is hard to model.   

    And in all honesty, isn’t compassion something that many adults have not yet learned, or maybe never will?  And isn’t it something that we parents continue to learn…?  Compassion is not easy for any of us.  After all, it is “easy” to feel sad when we see pictures of starving children, but it is difficult to care for a mean neighbour who gets sick a lot and needs our help, grouching at us all the while…  So we all continue to learn a deeper compassion as life goes along.

    Take heart, though, he will come along.  He will learn to be gentle with his sister, and over a few years he might even get to the point where he is protective of her.

    • Oh I needed to hear that! I wish it were easier, but you are completely right. It is a lifelong lesson and I can’t expect it to just appear. And modelling it is going to be so hard also. Thank God for God. I can’t imagine if it were only up to me to model! You really put things in perspective for me (as most of your comments do!) Thank you.

  • Sleeplessinsummerville

    I am there with you, minus the baby sister.  But take heart.  Children aren’t able to take another person’s perspective until they are quite a bit older than toddlers.  This means that you teach him appropriate behavior and try to let him see the consequences of his actions (that he hurt the baby and upset you in this case), and you understand that he literally cannot understand what he’s done in the way that you do. 
    But you spoke of his behaving compassionately towards his sister in other situations, and this is what proves that they are indeed capable of compassion, in small ways.  Just keep teaching him, and modeling appropriate behavior for him and don’t waste another moment worrying that you’re raising a psychopath!

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