Empathy is the ability to understand and feel what others are feeling or would be expected to feel.
There are two main types of empathy: cognitive empathy and emotional empathy.
Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective and feel their pain. It is also called role-taking. This kind of empathy allows you to immerse yourself in the experience of another person without losing your own feelings.
Emotional empathy is when you respond emotionally to another person’s emotional state. This can be because you sympathize with them, or because you can relate to their feelings. It’s also sometimes called emotional responsiveness.
Why Is Empathy Important?
Empathy is key to maintaining a cohesive society. It allows for ethical decision-making, kind acts, and altruism. A lack of empathy towards other people’s emotions in early childhood is associated with mental health issues later in life, such as conduct disorder and psychopathy.
Empathy refers to the ability to see another person’s point of view and to understand their feelings. This allows you to interact with them effectively and to show empathy. It is important for following rules and helping others, even when it is not in your own interests.
Empathy in children has been linked with more altruistic, cooperative and prosocial behavior. Children who are empathy show better social skills and emotional intelligence. They also display less aggression and better moral reasoning. Empathetic children are more likely to help those who are in distress and less likely to participate in bullying.
Empathy is important to adults in everyday life as it can help to build trust and closeness in relationships. Those who are able to empathise with others often feel a greater sense of satisfaction in their relationships.
The Science Of Empathy
In the 1990s, a new class of neurons was discovered in the brains of macaque monkeys. These neurons become active when a monkey grabs an object or when it watches another monkey grab an object. So acting and observing others perform the same task involves the same circuit of brain cells. Scientists call these mirror neurons.
The neural network for finger movement is activated in our brains when we see another person perform the same action.
When a person sees an expression of disgust on another person’s face, the same neural structure is activated in the observer as in the person who is expressing the emotion, and the observer experiences similar feelings. Visual information such as actions and expressions are critical in detecting or understanding another person’s feelings or state of mind.
When Do Kids Develop Empathy?
The ability to copy or imitate the emotions or sensations of another person forms the basis of developing empathy in children. Even at as early an age as 18 hours old, newborns can mimic the mouth and face movements of the adult they are facing.
Teaching Children Empathy
One way to show kids empathy is by being empathetic yourself.
When you do this, you are effectively walking in your child’s shoes and helping her understand her emotions. By emulating your child’s behavior, you are better able to understand and empathize with their emotions. This is because you are activating the same neural pathways in your brain that are responsible for your child’s emotions. Consequently, you are able to gain a better understanding of how your child is feeling.
A recent study shows that mothers who are emotionally attuned to their kids in the first year of life are more likely to have kids who are empathetic in childhood and adolescence.
You can show that you understand your child’s emotions by making your own facial expressions, body language, and nonverbal cues match theirs. For example, if your child is crying and upset, you can say “Oh, poor baby” in a way that sounds and looks like you’re feeling sympathetic too.
Be Warm, Nurturing, and Responsive
Becoming a warm, nurturing, and responsive parent is the key to meeting your child’s emotional needs. Responsive parenting means being attuned to your child’s positive and negative feelings.
Experiences in the early years with a primary caregiver are critical for the development of empathy. A secure attachment with parents who are warm, nurturing, and responsive to their children’s emotional needs is key for empathy development.
Children who are securely attached to their parents are more likely to be empathic towards others. This is because their parents have shown them concern and responsiveness, which has allowed them to develop a better understanding of other people’s points of view.
When parents discipline, it is important that they remain positive and empathetic. Positive discipline and inductive discipline are two ways to help parents remain positive and empathetic.
Emotion Coaching, Not Emotion Dismissing
A child might ask why they are supposed to be empathetic if it doesn’t seem to line up with their own experiences.
I feel like no one understands my emotions and it’s unfair that I have to try to understand others.
Our children will not learn empathy if we dismiss their feelings. This shows inconsistency in what we say and what we do.
The text is suggesting that if we deny something’s existence, it will go away.
Parents who use positive language with their children can help them develop empathy, but it will not completely erase negative feelings.
A child’s emotions should not be ignored, but rather guided and supported. Leading by example with empathy is the best way to teach children how to respond to their emotions.
The more parents coach their children on how to label different emotions properly, the more likely it is that these children will show concern for others. The more parents explain the causes and consequences of emotions, the more likely it is that the kids will develop emotional awareness and try to understand another person’s emotions.
Being able to see things from another person’s perspective is an important part of developing cognitive empathy.
Coaching your child through their emotions should be a part of your daily routine. Show them that you care and are supportive by responding correctly to different situations.
If parents constantly dismiss their children’s emotions, children tend to develop callous-unemotional traits and lack empathy for others.