Do you ever feel like your 2- or 3-year-old doesn't care about anyone but him or herself? Well, there's a scientific reason for that!
According to a new study published in Nature Communications, it's not until a child is 4 years old that he or she begins to have empathy, or understand what it might be like to be in someone else's shoes, so to speak. I think I speak for parents of toddlers and preschoolers everywhere when I say, darn!
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig and at Leiden University say this kind of social awareness comes from the maturation of a critical fiber connection in the brain, which doesn't actually happen until age 4.
Basically, a region at the back of the temporal lobe responsible for thinking about others and their thoughts, and a region in the frontal lobe involved in helping people understand what the real world (not just their own world) is and about the thoughts of others, stay separate prior to that magic age. So age 4 is when kids develop that Theory of Mind, or the ability to attribute thoughts and beliefs to others. It's also characterized by the understanding that others' beliefs can be different from their own.
Before age 4, kids are unable to comprehend that thoughts could exist independently of what they see and know about their world. For instance, a 3-year-old who found a box of chocolates filled with pencils instead would think that every child would expect to find pencils inside a chocolate box, even if they hadn't had the same experience.
Despite the science, I don't feel this is completely true about my own 3-year-old. She is often sweet and caring, especially now that I'm pregnant. She'll bring me a snack, or just cuddle up with me and pet my belly and say, "I love you, Baby." That's good enough for me!
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.