Table of Contents
Empathy develops in predictable patterns from infancy. From five months onwards, babies begin to perceive facial expressions as organized patterns. Hence, they start responding to emotional expressions.
Recordings of evident-related potential at this stage reveal reorganized brain-wave patterns like those of adults. This trend continues into adolescence, with the baby developing various behaviors or skills, including social referencing, emotional understanding, empathy, and sympathy.
From eight to ten months, an infant begins to engage in social referencing. The baby evaluates unfamiliar people, objects, and events to ensure their safety. However, an infant relies on another person’s emotional reaction, mainly voice and facial impression, to make his or her judgment about strange encounters.
As the recall memory and emotional language skill advance, infants retain their parents’ emotional warnings over wider intervals. By around 18 months, a child’s signal referencing develops to encompass indirect emotional cues, and he or she actively monitors adults’ expressions to inform their moves (Berk, 2012).
At this stage, babies begin to appreciate that other people’s preferences might be different from theirs. Hence, social referencing is no just about reacting to emotions but a baby’s evaluation of signals to enhance their sense of security and safety and gauge others’ intentions.
Emotional Understanding in Childhood
The emotional understanding of children expands significantly during the pre-school years. They begin to refer to the sources, effects, and behavioral signs of emotions and feelings (Berk, 2012).
Over time, their comprehension becomes more accurate and sophisticated. At this stage, one can predict what a playmate might do next based on the latter’s expression of emotion. As children become older, they begin to appreciate that situations might elicit mixed reactions, which may be positive, negative, or of varying intensity.
This competency allows them to understand that people’s emotions might not reflect their true feelings and fosters awareness of self-conscious emotions.
The extent to which parents acknowledge their children’s emotions and explicitly teach them about diverse emotions determines how best the latter express themselves in social settings and can judge others’ emotions when tested at later ages (Berk, 2012). In general, emotional knowledge shapes how one interacts with others in childhood and even adulthood.
Empathy and Sympathy
The development of empathy entails a complex interaction between the understanding and expression of emotions. Empathy is the capacity to recognize various emotions, assume another’s emotional view, and react emotionally in a similar manner.
However, in some children, empathy does not result in sympathy, which is the expression of feelings of concern for another’s anguish. Instead, empathizing with another escalates into personal distress. The development of empathy begins during infancy.
A baby is likely to cry in response to the cry of another. Nonetheless, as children grow, they begin to develop genuine empathy, which entails understanding self as distinct from other people. Empathy becomes evident at the end of the second year as a baby’s self-awareness strengthens. Over time, they not only identify one’s distress but develop the capacity to infer what might help relieve the sadness. As language develops, children rely on communication to empathize with others. This competency advances during elementary school years.
Consequently, they develop the ability to comprehend a wide of emotions and consider numerous cues when evaluating other’s feelings. Remarkably, temperaments and parenting are some of the factors that influence how children respond to situations around them (Berk, 2012). Overall, empathy and sympathy are a higher level of emotional competence that develops with age and are shaped by external parameters
- Berk, L. E. (2012). Child development (9th ed.). Australia, AU: Pearson