In her article in the New York Times, “Fearless Preschoolers Lack Empathy,” Pamela Paul reports on a study that claims that fearless kids lack empathy and warns that fearless kids are at risk for growing up to be aggressive, bullies and to exhibit “severe antisocial behaviors.” They claim that these 3 and 4 year-olds “Are curious, easygoing and friendly…may be charming, but they’re also highly manipulative and deceptive and skilled at getting their way – even at age 3 or 4.” Wow. There’s another way-over-the-top study designed to scare parents into beating their children into submission.
I love kids with great engines; kids who are physical, active and fearless, and learn how to manipulate their parents to get what they want.
I also love kids who hold back, test the water one toe at a time and learn to manipulate their parents to get what they want.
Look at each one of your 3-4 year-olds as an individual. Each is unique. Each comes from a different place. I’ve seen fraternal twins coming from these two opposite sides. So what? All it means is that we encourage each child to move in a different direction to augment the tendencies and approaches they seem born with. It’s no big deal. It’s simply the direction we’ll encourage them over and over, maybe with increasing firmness as they grow older.
The worst thing parents can do is overreact. To correct your child at age 3-4 as if they’re already firmly on the path to having “severe antisocial behaviors” is a good way to increase their self-doubt and destroy their confidence and self-esteem. Intense correction plants a thought virus that there’s something wrong with them; that they carry a bad seed that will destroy them or inevitably make them bad people.
They don’t have to choose between fearlessness and empathy. You don’t have to react as if they have an all-or-none choice. Or as if, if you don’t stamp out their natural tendencies immediately or at least by the time they’re 5, they’ll grow up to be little sociopaths. What nonsense.
Stay calm and carry on. Teach them to make the most of both fearlessness and empathy. Oh, yes; there’s also a downside to too much empathy.
With expert coaching and consulting we can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying. We can calmly look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and our children.