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Teach Your Kids to Value Empathy Over Tenacity

If you watched Coco Gauff’s third round loss in the US Open on Saturday, chances are you won’t remember the score or many details about the match itself; you’ll mostly remember how Naomi Osaka consoled the 15-year-old after her defeat.

And if you’re Osaka’s parent, you should be more proud of the kindness and empathy she showed than the big win she earned. Just two days before the sweet moment between the athletes, writer Anna Nordberg wrote for the Washington Post that parents put too much focus on their kids developing tenacity or grit and not enough focus on developing conscientious characteristics.

Clinical psychologist Lisa Damour tells Nordberg that what actually makes adults happy barely correlates with academic or professional success:

What it does correlate with is quality of relationships, a sense of purpose and feeling that you are good at what you do. “If you walk that back to look at what you can do as a parent, it’s raising conscientious kids,” Damour says. “When you’re conscientious, you tend to have better relationships, you’re caring, you’re not dishonest and you pursue things that have meaning to you.”

Maybe it seems obvious. Of course we want our kids to be good people. Of course we want them to be empathetic and kind and caring. We want our kids to work hard at their goals—even when things get tough—but we don’t want them to be the type of people who are more focused on their personal success than the feelings of those around them.

But apparently we’re not doing a very good job of getting that point across to our kids, at least not according to a 2014 study detailed in The Atlantic:

While 96 percent of parents say they want to raise ethical, caring children, and cite the development of moral character as “very important, if not essential,” 80 percent of the youths surveyed reported that their parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” Approximately the same percentage reported that their teachers prioritize student achievement over caring. Surveyed students were three times as likely to agree as disagree with the statement “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my class than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

So how can we not only value empathy but also encourage it? Well, we start by modeling it. Kids are more likely to do as we do, not do as we say. Let them see you shoveling the sidewalk for your elderly neighbor, volunteering at the local food bank and buying gifts for families in need during the holidays. And when you catch them being kind—praise, praise, praise.

But Nordberg also writes that we should actually create opportunities that “encourage empathy, collaboration and kindness rather than waiting for them to spontaneously happen.” We should be empathy enablers.

Enlist older kids to help with younger kids, whether it’s at home with siblings or at school as mentors or tutors. Involve them in your own problem-solving brainstorms. Clear off the kitchen table and spread out the thank-you card supplies so they’ll actually write the thank-you notes. Seek out moments in which you can encourage them to be kind, and they’ll build those empathetic muscles while also recognizing the value you place on those characteristics.

And then, one day, your kid might be the tennis star who consoles their opponent while the world watches and admires.

 

By: Meghan Moravcik Walbert

Source: Teach Your Kids to Value Empathy Over Tenacity

Empathy is a skill that parents can work to teach their children through encouragement and emotional development activities. In this episode of Mom Docs, Dr. Dehra Harris shares a few tips for parents to ensure children develop healthy emotional habits and empathy skills. Visit Children’s MomDocs (a blog by mom physicians at St Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine):
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The Science Behind Empathy And Being An Empath – Judith Orloff M.D.

The Science Behind Empathy And Being An Empath

Five scientific studies on the phenomenon of how empathy works.

As a psychiatrist and an empath, I am fascinated by the science of empathy and how the phenomenon of empathy works. I feel passionately that empathy is the medicine the world needs right now.

What is empathy? Empathy is when we reach our hearts out to others and put ourselves in their shoes. However, being an empath goes even further. Like many of my patients and myself, empaths are people who’re high on the empathic spectrum and actually feel what is happening to others in their own bodies.

As a result, empaths can have incredible compassion for people, but they often get exhausted from feeling “too much” unless they develop strategies to safeguard their sensitivities and develop healthy boundaries.In my book, The Empath’s Survival Guide, I discuss the science of empathy. These will help us more deeply understand the power of empathy so we can utilize and honor it in our lives.

1. The Mirror Neuron System

Researchers have discovered a specialized group of brain cells that are responsible for compassion. These cells enable everyone to mirror emotions, to share another person’s pain, fear, or joy. Because empaths are thought to have hyper-responsive mirror neurons, we deeply resonate with other people’s feelings.

How does this occur? Mirror neurons are triggered by outside events. For example, our spouse gets hurt, we feel hurt too. Our child is crying; we feel sad too. Our friend is happy; we feel happy too.

In contrast, psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists are thought to have what science calls “empathy deficient disorders.” This means they lack the ability to feel empathy like other people do, which may be caused by an under-active mirror neuron system. We must beware of these people because they are incapable of unconditional love.

2. Electromagnetic fields

The second finding is based on the fact that both the brain and the heart generate electromagnetic fields. According to the HeartMath Institute, these fields transmit information about people’s thoughts and emotions. Empaths may be particularly sensitive to this input and tend to become overwhelmed by it.

Similarly, we often have stronger physical and emotional responses to changes in the electromagnetic fields of the earth and sun. Empaths know well that what happens to the earth and sun affects our state of mind and energy.

Similarly, we often have stronger physical and emotional responses to changes in the electromagnetic fields of the earth and sun. Empaths know well that what happens to the earth and sun affects our state of mind and energy.

 Emotional contagion

The third finding which enhances our understanding of empaths is the phenomena of emotional contagion. Research has shown that many people pick up the emotions of those around them.

For instance, one crying infant will set off a wave of crying in a hospital ward. Or one person loudly expressing anxiety in the workplace can spread it to other workers. People commonly catch other people’s feelings in groups. A New York Times article stated that this ability to synchronize moods with others is crucial for good relationships.

What is the lesson for empaths? To choose positive people in our lives so we’re not brought down by negativity. Or, if, say a friend is going through a hard time, take special precautions to ground and center yourself. These are important strategies you’ll learn in this book.

4. Increased dopamine sensitivity

The fourth finding involves dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases the activity of neurons and is associated with the pleasure response. Research has shown that introverted empaths tend to have a higher sensitivity to dopamine than extroverts. Basically, they need less dopamine to feel happy.

That could explain why they are more content with alone time, reading, and meditation and need less external stimulation from parties and other large social gatherings. In contrast, extroverts crave the dopamine rush from lively events. In fact, they can’t get enough of it.

5. Synesthesia

 

The fifth finding, which I find particularly compelling, is the extraordinary state called “mirror-touch synesthesia.” Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which two different senses are paired in the brain.

For instance, you see colors when you hear a piece of music or you taste words. Famous synesthetics include Isaac Newton, Billy Joel, and violinist Itzhak Perlman. However, with mirror-touch synesthesia, people can actually feel the emotions and sensations of others in their own bodies as if these were their own. This is a wonderful neurological explanation of an empath’s experience.

The Dali Lama says, “Empathy is the most precious human quality.” During these stressful times, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Even so, empathy is the quality that will get us through. It will enable us to respect one another, even if we disagree.

Empathy doesn’t make you a sentimental softy without discernment. It allows you to keep your heart open to foster tolerance and understanding. It might not always be effective in getting through to people and creating peace but I think it’s the best chance we have.

(Adapted from The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff, MD, which is a guidebook for empaths and all caring people who want to keep their hearts open in an often-insensitive world.)

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