Have you ever been worried about your toddler not sharing their things with peers or even with you? Is there a possibility that this has something to do with the child’s growth?
Well, this is actually one of the outcomes of a healthy development. Another step, another stage in growth.
Is egocentrism healthy?
Self-centered thinking and behavior in general is considered a negative thing by adult society. For mature people it is important to think of and care about others, to look at things from different perspectives and to avoid making inconsiderate and subjective decisions. However often it isn’t that easy even for us.
Egocentrism is a very important stage in early brain development. If we constantly disapprove of kids’ selfish-seem behavior, we can easily cause harm in their psychological development in the long run. From infancy, children are step by step discovering that they have power over their body and mind. In the beginning they have an instinctive drive which makes them reach out, grab and taste things to collect information about different items, people and their own body. After a little time and practice it becomes more clear that the hands and legs they see belong to them and they have power to move those with their will. This is how they start to believe that they are able to function separately from others, from their environment. This is when they start having faith in themselves. Children want to discover how much power they have over how many things. But they can see situations and people only from their own perspective, they cannot yet consider others’ viewpoints. And this way of thinking is completely normal, healthy until the age of 5-6. Egocentrism is a phase, another step in child development. Not an error but good news!
But he bites, takes things away and he is antisocial!
You might ask: “So now am I really supposed to be happy about my kid hurting their peers, thinking everything belongs to them and being unable to cooperate?”
We are community creatures. Yes, of course we have to teach our children to cooperate but we have to know what can be expected at this age and what cannot. Also which approach could work and which could not. Because a toddler’s brain function won’t understand what it’s like to be in the other’s place. They have just started experiencing their own place. Therefore before the age of 5 children will not clearly understand the following sentences:
- Would you be happy if they did this to you?
- What do you think, how does this make the other feel?
- See, you deserved this because you started it.
To show and make them understand (in their language) not only them but others also have feelings and viewpoints is depending on our patience, attention and creativity.
Let me give you an illustrative example. One afternoon Paul (2,5 year-old), to express his feelings, began to tear up storybooks. An adult nearby walked over and started yelling at him. She told Paul off, said that shame on him, this is not how we read books. According to Paul’s age, he had enough self-confidence to think he would just leave the reading corner without a word. On the way, however, he stumbled and banged his head on the shelf. His emotions, which had been suppressed until then, like water overflowing from the glass, flooded him, so he began crying heavily. The adult, who had little empathy, yet had many teaching lessons in her toolkit, immediately said: “See, you deserve it because you tore the books.” Of course, this approach was neither helping him to stop crying nor to learn the lesson. I suspect he just felt more anger towards the books and mainly towards the adult. Luckily, another woman also watched the situation and saw the opportunity for real learning. First, she walked over, crouched down to Paul and asked him about what happened. She asked if he bumped his head, if it hurt and if he wanted some healing kisses on it. Paul’s tension instantly started releasing as he felt heard by the adult. He stopped crying and started sharing his emotions in his own way. The woman – with Paul on his lap – repeated how bad he could feel after bumping his head and then added: “You know, Paul, I believe the books are also very sad and they are crying too. They also feel this pain by you tearing them. I’m sure, they would also feel better by some healing kisses. Do you think it would help them?” It was visible on Paul’s face that he was thinking, then got up from the woman’s lap, walked over to the books, and kissed all he had torn.
First is empathy and acceptance, second is playful education
The toughest task for us is to parent with patience. To wait for the right time that life brings for the child as a teaching moment. Whether we like it or not, children will also learn best from their own mistakes and own enlightenment. Sending them to the corner, telling them off, repeating the lesson won’t work effectively. We have to be patient and use our creativity and imagination to highlight learning opportunities for our kids. Only through their own feelings are they able to step by step (at their own pace of brain development) understand how others feel. The more playful we are the better. But the first step always has to be empathy and the acceptance of the current situation and their present emotions. As long as their own feelings are not acknowledged by others, there is no chance of learning. As long as they are not understood and accepted, no one can get understanding and acceptance from them.
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