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Empathy is Good for Your Grandchildren

In this post, Sandra Bryson discusses what we can learn from neurobiology studies that suggest empathy is good for children.

By Sandra Bryson

As a Marriage and Family Therapist for the past 30 years, I have helped individuals, couples and families successfully navigate some of life’s most difficult transitions. My extensive experience as a therapist, web designer and parent has informed my current interest in working with families to help them understand how current trends in technology and social networking are impacting all of us. I strive to empower parents to set clear and consistent boundaries with their children, to pay attention in a deep way, and to foster empathy so that not only will their children succeed and thrive but that time spent parenting will be enjoyable for everyone. I have a private practice at Market Hall in Oakland, CA. For more information please visit my website: www.sandrabryson.com.

September 3, 2013

When I think about empathy, I think about what it means to me: that I cultivate the capacity to really understand what another person is feeling and experiencing at the same time.

But here is the tricky part: I might feel and/or experience something quite different myself.

It’s not identification.  It’s not agreement.  It’s being able to understand what is going on with someone, perhaps very different from me, and not necessarily agreeing, yet really seeing that other person and “getting” what they are feeling.

What do I mean when I say that empathy is good for our grandchildren?

Well, it turns out from studies in attachment theory as well as neurobiology that if we are empathic we have a better chance of having a really healthy attachment relationship with our children.  So, if we teach empathy to our children, they will, in turn have better attachment relationships with their children, and consequently, more secure and well adjusted children. Therefore, we will have more secure and well adjusted grandchildren.

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Can you see how this can spread?  It’s really like a kind of spawning. 

As we teach empathy to anyone who will listen, gaining that capacity will give future generations the secure starts to life that will further encourage more empathy and on and on.  It’s exponential, actually. Empathy begets healthy attachment, healthy attachment begets secure behavior, and secure behavior begets empathy. 

Voila.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Tuten