Why Twos Aren't So Terrible

They're Learning to Love

Surprise! That baby whose needs you catered to day and night now wants to care for you too. Two-and-a-half-year-old Erin Cummings is a case in point. "One night at dinner, she turned to me and asked, 'How was your trip?' " recalls her mom, Jackie, of Dallas. "I'd left her with a neighbor while I went to the doctor, and she wanted to know how it went. Just eight months ago, such a concept wouldn't even have registered."

Why are twos so cued in to you? "They're developing a sense of self. They're beginning to identify their feelings, which leads to an ability to perceive how other people feel," says Victoria Youcha, Ed.D., a child-development specialist with Zero To Three, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that promotes the health and well-being of young children.

But milestones alone shouldn't get all the credit. "Empathy is a learned behavior," says Meri Wallace, a child and family therapist with the Heights Center for Adult and Child Development, in Brooklyn. "Children act on their feelings based on examples they've seen." So if your toddler exhibits empathy, give yourself a few points: You've been a good role model.

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