Teach, not punish

I receive emails and newsletters on daily basis about Early Childhood Development. In a recent newsletter from Early Access, “Wednesday Wonders,” Melissa Schnurr referenced an article entitled, “10 Tips for Raising a Compassionate Infant or Toddler.” The article demonstrates that infants and toddlers are more empathetic than we once thought. Here is sound advice from the National Association for Young Children on how you can raise compassionate children.

1. Be respectful, patient, and loving to your infants and toddlers and everyone else. Infants imitate what they see. Model saying “please” and “thank you”, touching gently, using your words, using a calm voice, cleaning up your messes, helping others, and sharing your things.

2. Media is powerful! Read books about feelings with positive social interactions and discuss them. If your child watches television, watch too, and talk about the situations and emotions that happen in the shows, especially if the actions are antisocial.

3. When things are upsetting your toddler, you can engage your inner child. Doll or puppet play can help your child explore feelings and perspectives.

4. When people are upset, model compassion – talk about the problem and offer help.

5. Model touching gently on pets and guide toddlers who are rough to touch everyone gently, leave toys in others’ hands and to walk around other people instead of pushing.

6. Point out when harm has been done and suggest ways to make things better. Point out the facial cues that let you know what is happening.

7. When conflict breaks out, stay calm and support your child’s feelings. Offer solutions and stay close. It helps to use the same solutions each time, for example, if the conflict involves one child grabbing another child’s toy, get close and hold the toy in question, state the problem, comment on the children’s emotions, offer solutions, find one that is mutually acceptable, and restate the solution.

8. Point out kindness to others, “He liked it when you gave him the flower, see his smile?” That was kind of him to hand you the ball.” Point out social mistakes, “He just pushed you out of the way. I think he doesn’t have the words yet to tell you that he wants to play over by the balls. He should have walked around you.” Point out your own mistakes, too, “I made a mistake, I bumped her with your stroller – I’m sorry!”

9. Involve your child in home tasks like cooking and re-gifting. Talk about the teamwork involved in helping the house run smoothly or the way others will feel when they get the gift.

10. Stay close and guide your child as he/she navigates the complex world of feelings. Babies and toddlers will have strong feelings, make mistakes, feel possessive, seek autonomy, and struggle to control their impulses. Expect them to try and to make mistakes. Respect that all people may need time to get calm and composed before they are willing to talk about upsetting things.

Keep in mind that not everyone learns social skills at the same pace. When a child can’t dance, swim, etc. we teach them, but when a child can’t behave, we punish. Committing to teaching social skills to children creates a better community for everyone.

I will leave you with a note from Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

Children Learn What They Live

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.

If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.

If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.

If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.

If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.

If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.

If children live with fairness, they learn justice.

If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.

If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.


Carrie Kube is a director for Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area Board. All thoughts and opinions expressed are that of the author and not the board and/or its community partners.