What parent doesn’t love making their baby laugh? Not all laughs are created equal, though: it’s a lot more fun to make your baby laugh by making silly faces than it is to set off a fit of giggles by slipping, falling, and bashing an elbow into the corner of a table on your way down. No matter how great a sound your baby’s laughter is, there are certain situations where hearing it can kind of hurt your feelings.
Now, in the case of your baby’s case of the giggles over your slip-and-fall, there are a couple of different questions that come up. First, when will she develop a more sophisticated sense of humor? That one might take a while - there are people who never stop thinking slapstick humor is hilarious. The other question, though, ‘when will my baby start caring about my feelings?’ has a more complex answer.
Caring about other people’s feelings might seem like it should be instinctive, but in reality, there are a few really important, complex ingredients that go into real caring. The fact that many children do start showing signs of empathy so young - some as early as a year old - only proves how fast young children grow and change.
Before your baby can care about how someone else feels, she has to understand what the idea of “someone else” is - that is, she needs to develop the understanding of herself as an individual living in the world with other individuals. Some studies, including a 2013 study published in Current Biology, suggest that babies have some foundations for this sense of self as newborns, but other schools of thought suggest that a more solid sense of self often develops later, sometime between 6 months and a little over a year old, with the growing understanding of object permanence and a possible development of separation anxiety.
An important step on your baby’s path towards caring about other people’s feelings is understanding what feelings are. your baby is still in the fairly early stages of learning how to talk, but that doesn’t make it too early to start talking to her about what she might be feeling based on what’s going on in her life, or what you might be feeling. More important than knowing the words for emotions, though, is understanding basic concepts of cause and effect, which babies start to pick up on their own as they continue to explore the world in different ways. Many babies start to become more interested in cause and effect in the second half of their first year, exploring by throwing things, dropping things, and playing with noise-making toys. Babies can start to show an instinct to mirror the emotions around them at a very early age - crying when they hear or see someone else crying, for example - but a more complicated concern for how someone might feel based on something that’s happened to them comes along with a more developed understanding of cause and effect.
While it’s true that kindness can develop under any conditions, it’s also true that young children learn the way to react from the people in their lives. If your baby sees concern for other people’s feelings, and for her own as a routine part of your family’s lives, she is much more likely to reflect that back in the way she acts around other people, but this reflection back takes time to develop.
your baby is learning about empathy every day just by looking out at the world around her and the people in it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you can help her out on her way to a greater empathetic understanding.
Babies grow and change every day, and their feelings and emotional reactions grow with them. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for when your baby will start caring about other people’s feelings, but there’s a good chance she’ll get there sometime between a year and 3 years old. Even with a growing sense of empathy, though, she still may giggle a little if you trip.