Empathy & Fear

The past few weeks, Maya has developed a keen sense of empathy. She’s also begun to verbally express fear. These two new developments have shown us a whole new side of our daughter.


As toddlers live in a self-centered world (to no fault of their own), it wasn’t uncommon for me to stub my toe and have her completely ignore me — or laugh in response. But recently, she’s been very in tune to cause and effect and how it affects those around her.

A few weeks ago, Rocco — who easily weighs 105 lbs — was excited and jumped on me, giving me a lovely black and blue on my leg. Not at all thinking about Maya watching, I cried out in pain as anyone would have … and then she started crying. I promised her Mommy was OK, that Rocco just scared me. I was able to soothe her, but it was the first time we’d seen her demonstrate empathy. (And it was a good reminder to be careful how I react in situations like that – she is internalizing it!)

Maya is very into her baby dolls right now — feeding them, putting them to sleep, patting their backs, toting them around in a stroller or tucked safely in her arm. Earlier this weekend, she threw her baby on the ground with a huge grin on her face. Not wanting her to throw her babies, I said, “Oh no, Maya! Baby has an ‘owie’ now!” I watched in amazement as she looked down at her baby on the floor and swooped her into her arms, rubbing the doll’s back. Then came the shocker of the century: she murmered, “Sorry, baby,” to her doll. I gave her a big hug and said she was such a good mommy, taking such good care of her baby — but you know inside I was swelling with adoration and pride for this little two year old and her big heart.

Then tonight, we were watching Madagascar 3. We didn’t actually expect her to actually watch it (we rented it for us!) — but she surprised us by sitting through the whole movie, asking, “What’s happening?” and pointing at each of the animals. The lion was her favorite. I told her his name is Alex — just like her friend at school. Every time Alex came on the screen, she got excited. But during high-intensity scenes where the animals were in trouble — and particularly Alex — she got visibly upset, crying at the TV and whimpering, “ALEX!” through tears. The first time it happened, Luis and I looked at each other, wondering silently to each other if it was just a fluke that she was crying at the “right” time (Hello, she’s two, how could she understand!?) … But then it happened throughout the movie. Clearly, she did understand. And she felt what the characters were feeling. Of course, after the movie ended, she wanted “More Alex!” and I’m quite certain she will be peeved when we don’t have the DVD at home tomorrow. Think we might need to get the DVD for a special little someone.


With this new empathetic side to Maya, we’ve also discovered she has fears now — fears that extend beyond Rocco barking and her crying … i.e., the first 2 yrs of her life.

Exhibit A: When Luis vacuums, Maya used to just hide behind my legs. But now she peeks her head out and says, “Maya scared.”

Exhibit B: We turned on the dancing/singing stuffed snowman and she freaked out. “‘Noman SCARE Maya.”

Exhibit C: Watching an Elmo clip on YouTube where Elmo drives a cardboard bus and crashes it, she started crying, “Elmo SCARED!”

Each day, she’s becoming more and more of a little girl — with real feelings and preferences. I love seeing these new sides of her. While no parent wants their child to feel fear, it’s good that she can share those fears with us so we can help her get through them.



One thought on “Empathy & Fear

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