How Young Do Kids Learn Empathy?

Salt dough

My daddy died, says the four-year-old girl—
squishing and smashing lilac salt dough
into sea stars and snowmen at the daycare
craft table. She licks her fingers. Don’t eat the dough,
the caregiver says. A boy in a blue and green
striped shirt stacks blocks. The girl eyes
other kids’ paintings of mommies, daddies,
kids and dogs. My daddy died, she repeats,
looking around. The boy turns his stringy-haired
head her way, eyes her from her wavy bangs
to her purple fingers. I don’t have a dad, he offers.
Never met him. The caregiver tilts her head,
half-smiles. The boy rests the last block on the stack,
watches the tower weave before it falls to the table
with a boom and clack. He runs to the boy’s room.

The girl lifts a rounded mound of salt dough,
makes sure no one is watching, takes a bite.

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