Bullying, Empathy and Babies


At first glance, bullying, empathy and babies do not seem to be connected and yet they are incredibly interconnected.  I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about our neighbor’s baby and empathy for awhile, but work and family commitments have kept me (and Julie) off our blog for awhile.  But as I was eating lunch and surfing the web I found an article in Time Magazine that made me login here and start blogging!

The article is titled “How Not to Raise a Bully: The Roots of Empathy” and although it is written to the general public it has a lot of implications for those of us raising children who spent time in foster care, orphanages or abusive/neglectful homes.    It’s definitely worth a read and as Mary Gordon says, “empathy can be caught but not taught”.  Just as we talk and talk about in Because They Waited and many of our other courses and webinars, empathy is a brain based skill that begins to be learned in the first months of life.  We gain empathy when others behave emphatically toward us and others.

So, back to my neighbor’s baby…  Little R. is one of the most delightful babies I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  From the beginning he had a laid back temperament that was enhanced and nurtured by his parents’ care of him.  Both mom and dad are responsive, loving and very capable parents.  I first noticed the most outward signs of empathy when he was about 6 or 7 months old or so.  When his big sister was sad or mad and cried, he would give her big, open mouthed baby kisses to try and make her feel better.

I think this is pretty amazing–not just because I am smitten with little R, but to think that in just 6 or 7 months a person can go from a helpless newborn to a little tiny person who is able to notice how someone else is feeling, feel compassion/empathy and then act on that to try and help–that’s pretty incredible.

  1. They have to have had enough attuning experiences to be able to decode the other person’s expressions, tone of voice and other body language.
  2. They have to have some self-regulation skills so that they do not become overwhelmed themselves.  (this same baby, R, would start to become upset if his mother acted like she was crying–why?  Because she is his primary caregiver and he is  still very dependent on her to help him regulate his emotions).
  3. They have to have had enough of their own needs met to even have an idea what to do to “make someone feel better”
  4. They have to have had enough of their own cries responded to so that they even feel powerful enough to believe they can make a difference (also some cause and effect thinking in there, too, huh?)

So, thinking of how impacting R’s first 6 months of life have been, is it any wonder that children entering their homes at older ages have a lot of growth to do?  And, is it any wonder that we, as parents, have a big job ahead of us that won’t be resolved in a few weeks or even months?  This also fits in nicely the post on socialization I wrote some time ago.  We can’t even begin to expect a child to take advantage of social gatherings until they have the skills to navigate them–and those skills come from us–the adult caregivers!

To me, reinforcement that working from home with all its hundreds of interruptions by the kids and other challenges is worth it.  I am grateful to be here building that empathy everyday, even though it may not look like it on the surface.  I think that for all of us, no matter if our children were adopted, fostered or came to us through birth, this article is a call to consciousness.

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One Response to “Bullying, Empathy and Babies”

  1. Kris Miner Says:

    I have been sharing Mary Gordon’s approach for years. Empathy is a needed value for us to being to embrace. Thank you for this article!

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