"I'm goooonna get you!" croons Jacob's mother, with a lilting refrain that gradually speeds up as her fingers move up his belly. Jacob is excited, quietly tensing his body until the game peaks with gentle tickles and peels of laughter. After a few moments of calm, Jacob again makes eye contact and beckons his mother with a shake of his arms. The game begins again, "I'm goooonna get you!"
This interaction illustrates how infancy is a highly social period of life, full of smiles, vocalizations, and eye contact. Mother learns to read baby's cues and adapts her style to match his preferences. A baby who feels understood becomes a toddler who understands others.
After the first year, babies begin to take social cues from parents and teachers. Twelve-month-old Kendall, for instance, is toddling toward a section of the play yard that is unfamiliar to her. After a few steps, she stops and looks back at her father, who offers her encouraging smiles. Kendall continues on her journey. If her father had frowned or seemed worried, Kendall might also have felt worried and returned to the secure base of her caregiver's lap. This ability to share feelings is essential for the later development of empathy and compassion.
At 18 months, a toddler becomes aware of himself and his relationships with others. People are no longer just extensions of him but separate beings with their own feelings. Toddlers this age are also developing more long-term memory and can recall feelings and experiences.
The older toddler feels self-conscious and begins to see herself as others see her. She wants approval from the people she feels close to. For example, a 2-year-old might be able to stop herself from taking her friend's cookie because she knows her mother would disapprove. These new thinking skills introduce more explicit feelings of empathy. When an older toddler sees a friend crying over a dropped juice pop, for example, he might remember how he felt and offer a comforting pat on the back. In the past he was the comfortee; now he reverses his thinking, identifies that his friend is sad, and adopts the new role of comforter.