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Are children born with kindness?


First Things First’s Baby Proof series highlights stories, news and research on the importance of early childhood. Because understanding more about the science of how your young child learns and develops can help you be a better parent.

Are children born to be kind?

Most parents want their child to be kind and caring. But are babies born to be kind? Or do kindness and empathy need to be learned?

A recent feature from National Public Radio looks at whether young children are naturally inclined to help others.

In Kindness vs Cruelty: Helping Kids Hear the Better Angels of their Nature,  NPR’s Cory Turner and Anya Kamenetz discuss some recent studies that shed light on the subject.

One study of infants used puppets and showed that the most babies showed a strong preference for the puppet that was helpful over the one that wasn’t. More than 75% of the babies in the study reached for, or looked longer at, the helpful puppet.

Another study recorded the reactions of toddlers when they watched an adult drop something. Nearly every child responded with an attempt to help the adult. They helped without being asked, whether their parent was in the room or not, and even without being thanked.

So, there is some evidence that children are born with kindness.

Kindness: Nature or Nurture?

The article also highlights some things that can get in the way of our children’s better nature.

One is the fact that young children are also naturally self-centered. The ability to see things from someone else’s perspective develops through time and experience.

A child’s individual temperament can also be a factor.

One small study of 2 year olds showed that most did not take action when they saw other kids in distress. They didn’t offer a hug or call for adult. Some kids may be very sensitive. Others may be too shy to take action or just unsure of what to do.

A big takeaway from this content is that parents, teachers and caregivers can play a big role in bringing out kindness in little ones.

Kindness is a natural tendency, but it’s also a skill to be learned and practiced. One that parents and caregivers of young children can nurture one experience at a time.

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