How to Bond with Your One Year Old Baby: My Story of Genuine Empathy Through the Tears of My Child


Earlier this week, another great and unique moment happened in my world of fatherhood. It was the first time that I saw my 1 year old baby’s eyes water up. Not because she was angry or frustrated or crying to get attention. Her eyes welled up with tears because she felt sad for the “ugly duckling.”

Watching YouTube Videos in Different Languages

As she’s nearing 2 years old, we’ve been allowing her to watch some shows on YouTube. As a proud language learner myself and having experience teaching kids languages, and wanting to give her the gift of multilingualism, we’ve been letting her watch cartoons in English, Chinese and Spanish.

One day, I was searching for “dibujos animados” (cartoons in Spanish) when suddenly a cartoon was recommended called “El patito feo”, which means “The Ugly Duckling”. It was a Disney cartoon and I saw that it was really old. In fact, I think it was made in the early 1900s.

We watched it together, along with my wife and child, and I was disappointed when I found out early in the cartoon that there actually wasn’t any talking in Spanish at all in the cartoon, not even English. There were only duck and other animals sounds. I figured, oh well, might as well finish the 8 minute cartoon.

Enjoying Cartoons Without Any Verbal Language at All

As the story continued, the baby “ugly” duckling used its animal sounds and gestures and facial expressions to communicate its feelings. As it was rejected by its mother and siblings because it was different from the others, and began exploring the world on its own to find a new home and family, I could sense that my daughter was engrossed by the story. She didn’t wince or scream “No, no!” as she usually does when she doesn’t like the show.

In the end, the “ugly” duckling finds a beautiful mother swan and other siblings (different from his original family) and realizes that he is very similar to these new birds. Unlike his duck siblings who “quack”, the swans “honk” like him. Instead of laughing at his “honk” sound, the swans make the same sounds and accept him for who he is. He finds happiness in being like them, and is worried when they leave. But in the very last scene, he is relieved that the mother swan take him in as part of their family, while the duck family look on, baffled. It was really a beautiful story, and made me tear up.

My wife and I were more surprised though when we peered at Zoe’s face. Her eyes had watered up too. They were slightly red, and her face was blank but intense because she had been concentrating so much on the storyline. She had been sad for the little “ugly” duckling, and had been touched that it had found a new home even though it was rejected by its original mother, father and siblings.

Even after the cartoon had ended, Zoe still felt sad and a little awkward because she didn’t know how to react after feeling such a strong emotion.

Understanding My Child Through Her Body Language & Emotions

It was such a beautiful moment. It was the first time seeing her like this, and Fufu and I had to talk about it later on. The beauty of those tears was that it was raw and innocent. Unfiltered and real. She had felt for one of the first times in her life a sense of genuine empathy for the baby duck in the story, and I think it was because she could relate to the human need for belonging, family and ultimately, love.

Even though she has trouble saying words and sentences, she can still comprehend higher levels of language, such as emotions and body language. That really struck me, and we were amazed that even though she can’t yet uttereven 1 sentence, she can still understand when others feel hurt, afraid, lonely or sad. And she can empathize with them… even when they are little ducks in short cartoons.

I never want to forget this moment. I too was touched, not only by the cartoon itself, but by the overwhelming reaction by my 1-year-old baby daughter.

I guess it brought up my own feelings of wanting to be loved, accepted and the importance of family…

I think Zoe will also like Finding Nemo and Dumbo, and I can’t wait to watch them with her, but I think we’ll take a break for now from those really emotional storylines!

Check out El Patito Feo / The Ugly Duckling below: