One of the keys to your preschooler's moral development is her growing capacity for empathy. As a toddler, your child was extremely egocentric. Whatever your toddler wanted to do she saw as the "right" thing to do. "Fairness" meant getting what she wanted. "Getting along with others" meant getting them to do what she wanted them to do.
But the preschool years mark your child's transition from egocentricity to empathy—or at least the potential for empathy. Your preschooler has probably become increasingly helpful and considerate of others over the last year. Of course, it's still a struggle for her. When forced to choose between her own self-interest and empathy, your four-year-old will still probably choose self-interest. Yet when her own self-interest is not threatened, your child may freely provide consideration and empathy to others.
You can help encourage the further development of your child's capacity for empathy by:
- Modeling helpfulness and empathy yourself.
- Paying attention to your child's feelings and encouraging her to talk about them. When you do, try to explore with your child what lies behind these feelings: why your child feels a certain way.
- Talking about your own feelings. Be honest and explain why you feel the way you do.
- Expressing concern for the feelings of others (including those of your child). If your child sees that you care about other's feelings, she will eventually absorb this same value.
- Citing empathy for or consideration of others as reasons for rules or moral decisions whenever you can. For example: "I know you want the last piece of cake, but Christopher will be sad if he doesn't get a piece."
- Making connections between your child's behavior and the feelings of others. Your preschooler won't always recognize how her behavior affects others. Clarify these connections for her. For example : "Did you see how the baby smiled when you gave her the rattle? That's her way of saying thank you."
- Emphasizing the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would want to be treated.