Don't be surprised if your the-world-revolves-around-me 2-year-old starts to look distressed when another kid cries, or to rub your arm when you feel blue. Recognizing other people's emotions is your child's first step to developing empathy, says Debbie Glasser, Ph.D., founder of NewsFor Parents.org, an online source for new research on kids and families.
Ways you can help him along and lay the groundwork for things such as sharing and apologizing:
? Name emotions -- even when you're not sure your child understands completely. You might say, "You have a big smile on your face. You must be happy to see me!" This will help develop his "feelings vocabulary," says Glasser.
? Don't dismiss your child's feelings. Saying things like "You're not scared. Everything's all right" can be confusing, and it won't help him learn how to feel better.
? Tell him that all emotions are fine. It's what you do with them that matters. For instance, "It's okay to be mad that Ethan ate your cookie, but it's not okay to hit him."
?Point out how other people feel. Characters in books are good for this: "The dog in the story looks sad because someone took his favorite bone."
?Don't worry if he forgets that other people have feelings, too. It'll be years before he fully develops empathy.