This morning, the kids were running around playing before school when Elliott threw a hard little rubber ball right at Ben's nose. He wasn't being malicious; in fact, that would have been more reassuring. His look was decidedly...blank. And when Ben clutched his nose in pain (it was quite dramatic), Elliott only screamed, "My ball" because "his" ball had rolled away. It used to be that Elliott never asked us if we were okay when we hurt ourselves. In recent months, he will occasionally say, "Are you okay?" though the sentiment isn't quite fully there. I imagine that typical 3-year-olds aren't the most compassionate people in the world, but I have no reference point. My kids have never been typical.
So while Elliott screamed for his ball, I gently held his hand and said, "Look, Elliott. Ben is hurt." I touched his hand to Ben's nose and said, "Look at Ben's nose." Elliott would only look at his ball and I had to ask him several times to look at Ben's face. Finally, he did. Ben returned his gaze in melodramatic fashion. Nothing seemed to register for Elliott. "Tell Ben you're sorry," I prodded. "I'm sorry, Ken-Ken," Elliott said, but it was clear he only cared for his ball. Ben wanted a profuse apology along with a hug and a promise of no future violence against him. He also required a hug. He lectured Elliott on the dangers of small rubber balls and Elliott stared blankly past him.
I wonder if Elliott truly has empathy or if he is just imitating. He laughs at the parts in movies that aren't supposed to be funny, when the cartoon character is in anguish. It's interesting to have to teach him to 1) notice when someone is hurt and 2) react to it appropriately. I worry about the problems this will cause in the future. I wonder if empathy is something that can even truly be taught.