An Act Of Infant Kindness

This mom’s discovery was too good not to pass along…

Hi Janet,

An amazing thing happened this past weekend that I wanted to share — maybe it’s only amazing to a first time mom who’s amazed by everything, so bear with me!

We went to a music group with my 11 month old son and there are several “instruments” (wooden sticks and shakers, silk cloths) that we all have and bring with us to group. A little girl, also 11 months, crawled over to my son and tried to take a stick, which neither he nor I were bothered by. Her mother told her it wasn’t nice to take things and pulled her away from him. We continued to play and my son kept an eye on his playmate. She tried to borrow his toy again, and her mother pulled her back again which made her cry. My son crawled over and offered his toys to her with a smile.

I’ve never “taught” him to share, and he has limited experience with other kids outside of this once a week group. It just amazed me that this behavior was so innate and that he and his little playmate were communicating with each other very well without spoken language. And that these two 11 month olds could work out their play very well without our intrusion. (One more)…AND it was totally okay that I was trying to be RIE and this other mom was not. Just because we’re not coming from the same philosophy doesn’t necessarily mean that these interactions that we’re hoping to see won’t come true.

I know that these are things that we expect to see, but to see my son so observant and engaged with his playmate and to show empathy was really heartwarming — another testament to RIE. We just have to be quietly engaged and observant to see these moments and relish in them.

Thanks for bringing RIE into our lives!

For more about infant awareness, morals, empathy and the development of social intelligence, please read ‘Empathetic Civilization’: Amazing Empathetic Babies (and everything else by Alison Gopnik), The Moral Life of Babies by Paul Bloom and my posts The S Word and You’ll Be Sorry.

You might also appreciate this video of a 20 month old toddler responding empathetically to her 14 week old sister: “Infant Empathy

Have you seen an infant or toddler demonstrate empathy?


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I have often observed young toddlers showing empathy towards peers and adults, and it touches my heart every time. When I was working at a RIE inspired Infant/Toddler center, it was was not unusual to see young children offer comfort to peers who were sad or upset, by offering their own special “lovies” (comfort items from home) , or by coming close, and patting a crying friend gently.

    Conversely, it was interesting to note that virtually every toddler knew which lovey belonged to which friend, and though struggles would sometimes ensue over communal toys, there were almost never any struggles over lovies. In fact, it was common to see one toddler returning a momentarily forgotten lovey to a friend. Not what most people think of as common toddler behavior, and yet…

    Just recently, I witnessed a beautiful scene between the five year old and two year old siblings I care for. S. (who is 5) was very upset, and was crying, and went to her room to calm down. Her Mom was trying to comfort her. J. (the 2 year old) was concerned (as he always is when his sister is upset). He asked me, “S. cry?” I said, “Yes, S. is sad, and Mama is trying to help her feel better.” He nodded gravely. A few minutes later S. emerged from her room, calmer, but still sniffling. J. approached her and said, “S. cry? Sad?” S. nodded. J. asked “Hug?” S. nodded. They hugged. J. asked, “Better now?” S. nodded. J. said, “S. happy now?” S. gave a shaky smile.

    Their Dad and I watched this scene unfold before us, and we both had tears in our eyes.Just amazing, the empathy young children are capable of showing for others when they are treated with kindness and respect themselves.

    1. I love this, Lisa, and have tears in my eyes, too.

    1. Hi Anthony! RIE is the acronym for Resources for Infant Educarers, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to infants and their caregivers founded by infant specialist Magda Gerber in 1978. The RIE philosophy (also known as “Educaring”) is centered on the belief that babies are born capable, competent beings worthy of the same respect one would extend to an adult or older child. Babies are self-learners and can be trusted to develop motor, cognitive and social skills in their own way and time. RIE believes that children are best “taught” about empathy and sharing through adult modeling and a relationship with caregivers based on mutual respect and trust. When we force sharing prematurely, it interrupts and interferes with social learning, fosters self-doubt and distrust (and as I wrote in “The S Word”, makes ‘share’ a bad word).

  2. I am in the midst of a pretty similar situation, also involving a once a week music class!

    I want so badly for my 10 month old daughter to play with the other children in the room and she wants to SO BAD too!!! I am finding that most of the other mommys, even though the class is supposed to be a social thing, do not want their children to do anything but focus on the teacher and the mommy! How Boring that must be, don’t these kids do that at home with you all day?!

    I am also witnessing the unrealistic expectation for these babies to “share”. It makes me want to scream “Are You Kidding Me!!??”…but I don’t! I’m quiet as a mouse (which is very hard for my Type A personality to do BTW!).

    At the last class, my daughter started to crawl towards a small stack of books (she LOVES books) a mom had sitting in front of her. The woman glared at my child, picked up the books and put them behind her and then actually said “Mine”!!!! Needless to say, my jaw hit the floor! How do you even respond to that?! Seriously! How?!

    My girlie has gone to a day care at the gym I work at 1 time. The women were absolutely delighted with her, saying she was so friendly, confident and smart! They were amazed at the level of toys she was playing with and that she was good at solving dilemas; like having crawled into a space that was a bit to tight and managing her own way out. I was thrilled! I told them my husband and I had made a point to not play with her toys FOR her and to talk her through getting out of sticky situations. I also told them about your website!

    Thank you so much for your wisdom!! Now if only I can get the other mommies to just leave their kids alone!!!

    1. Jamie, thank you and you’re so welcome. Wow, not such great modeling by the mom with the books! In the classes at RIE we ask parents to keep their personal items out of the playroom so that everything in the childrens’ space is available for them to use and that’s what we recommend doing at home, too. That’s important if you want to encourage play. We don’t want to be saying, “Oh, play and enjoy” and then telling the babies “NO, can’t touch this or that” every second.

      I love your daughter’s problem solving at the gym!

      Your story of frustration and the many I hear in this vein have me convinced that we just have to keep educating parents and caregivers about the way children learn and the primary importance of our patience and trust. In the meantime, please check out the community section ( to see if there might be others with similar values in your vicinity that want to form a playgroup! (I know it’s a long shot, but we’ve got to start somewhere. I’m hoping that someday there’ll be thousands of parents in every location around the globe. 🙂 )

      1. I really empathise with this! As a preschool teacher and infant carer I am often frustrated or saddened by parents’ behaviour… which is why I started writing my own childcare blog… and then of course I realised that often, the parents who most need to read information like this are exactly the ones who wouldn’t dream of spending time researching parenting strategies. Sigh! Never mind, we keep putting it out there and hoping… 😀

    2. Christina says:

      OMG!, I cant believe a mum would take that stack of books away, I am flabbergasted. I am lost for words really.

  3. My children (ages almost two and a half and almost four) often get distressed when the other is ‘having troubles’. They offer comfort with hugs, toys and other things. I have also found them making the baby feel better by putting toys in his crib and talking to him when I haven’t gone in right when he woke up.

    My two year old recently broke her leg, and our three year old was very eager to help make her feel better, and to tell me when he thought I should be doing something to make her better as well 🙂 We have a gorgeous photo of her lying on the couch with him at the other end with her legs on his lap.

  4. Thank you for sharing the wonderful story and example of the development of empathy!
    I so enjoyed reading the story and beautiful insights shared by Pamela!

    For further reading on the development of empathy you may enjoy this guest blog written by The article is co-authored by Lauren Zimet, M.S.,CCC/SLP, Sharon Sokolik, M.A., CCC/SLP, and Contributing editor, Maggie Parry.

    Thanks again Janet for all the valuable information and contributions you always provide.

    1. Deborah, thank you for adding this wonderful resource! I really appreciate it!

  5. In my group family child care program we see so many acts of kindness and empathy! It is not uncommon for a young one-year-old child to bring an upset friend his/her lovie. Very attentive our children, and they know what feels good to them, so they pass it along! Love it.

  6. Congrats to this new mama for this lovely experience! I’ve been using the RIE approach to sharing with my 18MO son for awhile now. He never ceases to amaze me in his interactions with other children. It’s especially touching when other parents who aren’t using RIE get to experience the benefits of it too!

  7. One time when my son was about 18 months old, I was having a bad day and I started crying. He noticed and brought me his beloved stuffed duck toy and offered it to me. So sweet!

    I love the story here and I love the video you linked to!

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