Lessons from a five-year-old about empathy

Granted, we’re all different. That is no exception when it comes to the type of aunts there are on this planet. Being single when most of your family and friends are married (and with at least one child) makes navigate at social functions quite tasking. I am however not here discuss that but about the nephews and nieces that transform my life in the smallest of ways.

The fantastic thing about being an aunt is that you get to observe. I don’t shy away from a diaper change, but I tend to be super fascinated by how kids act and talk. If you watch along enough with patience, you’ll get the best laugh out of them, despite a parent’s exasperations at times. My all-time favorite story was of my niece Amanda and the interaction she had with another child at the mall.

See, Amanda is five years old but rather short for her age. That means, for the most part, she gets left out of games and often overlooked. In that regard, I am like her, but as I grew older, it became by choice. On this day, we had ice cream at the food court after a meal of burger and fries. We were all quite full, and it was beginning to dawn on us we could have skipped dessert. My niece still hadn’t touched her vanilla ice cream despite having sprinkles and a splash of caramel. As she began nodding off in the afternoon heat, a low wail woke her up.

I was deeply engrossed in a story her mother (my cousin) was telling her two other girlfriends about colleagues who need a divorce lawyer. It was however how the little girl jerked awake that caught my eye. So I watched. As an adult, you learn to mute cries and wails from children not with you, but little Amanda didn’t know what. Across from us was a mother, apparently having a rough day, cooing a baby in her arms. Beside her, on a leash, was a boy around four or five (could have been older). There were only shopping bags on their table.

After watching the boy for a bit, I noticed the source of his wailing was hunger. I am not a psychologist, but when a young boy looks from table to table, pausing long enough from wailing to watch someone stuff a French fry in their mouth, then it’s hunger. I was busy staring at the boy that I almost didn’t notice Amanda was off the table, ice cream in hand. Her mother had just gotten to the best part of the story and nearly missed this part.

Walking over shyly to the boy, Amanda stretched out her hand, glancing from the boy to the mother. After making eye contact with the mother, followed by a nod, the now visibly relieved lady nudge the boy forward. After a tiny ‘here’ and a ‘thank you,’ both children retreated.

I don’t know about you, but that five-year-old girl has made me more attentive to other people’s plight. When you remain humble, there quite a lot that, even an aunt, can learn from the children around us.