Empathy, Sharing, and Eight-month Olds


At what point do we develop empathy? The twins definitely seem aware of the emotions around them. If you smile at them they smile back. If you’re upset they’re upset. And if one of them cries, the other inevitably cries.

But at what point can they put themselves in another person’s place? That is surely a more advanced skill, but one I feel the need to lay the groundwork for already. 

What I’m thinking of especially is sharing. This is not a concept they get. What they do understand is that the toy their sister is playing with is by far the most interesting toy in the room. 

M is now scooting and rolling around so that she can get where she wants to go, whereas Bean is still relatively content sitting and playing with toys nearby. M has been rolling over to where Bean is sitting and stealing whatever toy she’s playing with, then rolling away again. Bean immediately screams in outrage.  

If I see it happen I restore the toy to the original twin. But if I hear that telltale cry when I’m in the other room, there’s no way for me to enforce what’s right.

Last month when we had a play date with some younger babies I found myself getting self-conscious about my parenting, as my babies systematically stole all the toys from the younger two. “No, that’s their toy!” I kept repeating. “They were playing with that. You already have a toy.”

I know this is only the beginning of the discipline road. It isn’t really even discipline yet, just explanation and moving toys back and forth. Still it’s interesting. Whenever one of them steals a toy from the other they look very pleased with themselves, grasping the desired object as the other screams in outrage. But they also look a bit mischievous, as if they suspect this might be wrong and they wonder what will happen next. Am I projecting? 

12 thoughts on “Empathy, Sharing, and Eight-month Olds

  1. I think that it’s really good that your twins are getting this ‘training’ in sharing already. They are lucky to grow up together. I think they will be very good at it in the future. My son is just on his own and he hasn’t had as many opportunities for learning to share as your twins have. But I noticed that the more contact he has with other children the better he gets at it. So you don’t need to worry about it, just keep on doing what you’re doing.

    • I guess that is a good thing. Though we should probably figure out some sort of sharing system for when they both want to play with the same toy. Do they take turns? Do they each have their own toys? I guess we will figure it out as we go.

  2. I don’t even know where to start. I have so much to say but I feel like I would be writing my own blog. I think that the fact that they’re twins advances them to feeling empathy and also to having a bit of a rivalry. I don’t know if you know but I have an identical twin sister. One of my first blogs is called Growing Up Twin and, even though it may not have a lot to do with your babies right now, it might be an interesting read for you. (Not just trying to get you to read and like my blog any more than you already have but if you are interested, here’s the link:http://rockandrollsupermom.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/growing-up-twin/)
    Also, by the way, probably of more interest if your twins are identical. Are they?

    • Oh! I didn’t realize you had a twin. I will definitely read that blog post! And you should write a blog about twin empathy–I’d like to read it! Funny about identical or fraternal, short answer we’re not 100 percent sure, but they were di-di, so it’s only a 25 percent chance they’re identical. I’d like to have a blood test at some point just to know.

      • Wow, that’s odd. I never heard of anyone who was not sure (re identical/fraternal). I actually just looked up the term di-di!! So now I know!! Anyway, I’m really glad you read and liked the blog. After I wrote my comment I was worried that it came off as too self indulgent on my part.

      • I know, it is odd, especially since that’s the first question everyone asks! We should probably just say they’re fraternal, because they probably are, but then there’s that little twinge of doubt. I’m sure it will become obvious as the grow older. And I’m so glad you linked to your blog! Sometimes it’s hard to find the older blogs we’ve written. I was thinking I should probably make better use of categories.

  3. I think they are too young to understand the concept of “stealing” and are probably just going for what looks interesting but I doubt starting to “explain”
    Sharing couldn’t hurt. Mine are the same. Miles moves more than Abby who is generally more content to sit and play- but then Miles will scoot over and grab what she has. So far she hasn’t screamed about it but I always return it to her and hand him something else anyway.

  4. Such great questions! I had ALL of the same concerns that you are having! Your twins are fine. At about the age of 2 years, children will recognize that they are different persons and true empathy can begin to develop. Some researchers believe that empathy actually begins to develop as young as 8 months, but it doesn’t really solidify until age three. As far as sharing, it usually doesn’t fully develop until about 3 years. Had I thought about this when my kids were growing up, I wouldn’t have cried when I would leave play group! You can always model these behaviors to stimulate growth in these areas, but no worries when your twins have their own ideas about feelings and sharing.

    • I’ll be interested to see what happens in the empathy department as they get older. So it takes until they are two to realize they are different persons. Kind of amazing when you think about it. How do they conceive of the world before they understand that? Thanks for commenting! Your blog looks really interesting.

  5. Your girls will have TONS of practice with sharing thanks to always having a twin around! It is tiring to teach but really cool when you see them understand and have empathy down the road. My girls still struggle with sharing at 2, but it’s much better than it was. I have one who is a chronic “taker” and loves to push her sister’s buttons…it will be fun to see those little personalities emerge while you’re refereeing!

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