Children's perceptions and comforting strategies to infant crying: Relations to age, sex, and empathy-related responding


Correspondence should be addressed to Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education, University of British Columbia, Room 2503, Neville Scarfe Building, 2125 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada (e-mail:


This study aimed to examine child characteristics associated with the understanding of and responses to infant crying. Seven hundred and twenty-four 1st to 7th grade children (383 boys, 341 girls) were shown a picture depicting a crying infant, whereupon they were asked to generate the potential causes for infant crying along with the action responses that they might utilize to assist a crying baby. Self-reports of children's empathy-related responding were also obtained. As hypothesized, an age-related increase in the number, variety, and quality for causes for infant crying and strategies to help a crying infant were observed. Girls generated a higher mean number and variety of causes compared to boys. For older children (grades 4–7), dimensions of empathy-related responding, namely sympathy and perspective taking, were significantly associated with the number and variety of causes for infant crying and caregiving strategies. The findings support the conclusion for a developmental progression of understanding of facial expressions of infant crying across middle childhood.