It seems as though many discussions with our kids or friends morph into mindless debates rather than genuine conversations. The goal is to win an argument rather than to understand another’s viewpoint.
This has been evident within the political arena. Moderation and compromise have become synonymous with selling out or giving in. We pay a high cost for this extremism — the loss of empathy.
Relationships are based on understanding another’s viewpoint. This means listening carefully and striving to appreciate another’s thoughts and feelings without inserting our perspective. During my graduate studies, a professor told me that establishing empathy with our patients is the most difficult skill psychologists had to learn. She was right.
It’s hard to listen. Many kids and their parents express outrageous thoughts and feelings that seem so misguided, illogical, and just plain wrong. Even so, I can’t begin to influence families in a positive direction until I emotionally and intellectually understand their worlds.
Empathy doesn’t mean condoning or agreeing with another. When kids tell me their parents hate them, I don’t agree with their feelings. I simply try to understand the basis of their emotions.
Marriage relationships often fail because one or both partners lack the skill of empathy. Kids emotionally disengage based upon their judgment that their parents don’t understand them.
How would you describe your closest friends? I bet you would say that they really “get you.” Genuine relationships are built upon this foundation of empathy.
Empathic people are happier in their personal lives and more successful in their careers. The ability to understand and respond to another’s perspective is one of the keys to happiness.
Here’s how you can promote this skill in your children.
- Calm down. Empathy ends when anger and frustration begin. When kids need it the most, they are least able to be empathic. Teach your kids how to calm down or walk away from highly emotional situations.
- Stop giving your viewpoint. Allow yourself the privilege of understanding another without labeling their world as misguided.
- Ask lots of open-ended questions. “Tell me more about that.” “What were you thinking or feeling when that happened?” “Explain that again to me. I’m not sure I understand.”
In my family sessions with kids, I ask them to restate their parents’ perspective before giving their own. Kids are initially terrible at this, but with coaching and practice even young kids can develop these skills.
The United States ranks seventh out of 63 countries in a recent study of empathy. You can’t change the entire country, but you can change yourself.
Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at the Children’s Medical Center of Dayton. For more of his columns, visit www.childrensdayton.org/ramey and join Dr. Ramey on Facebook at www.facebook.com/drgregramey. Dr. Ramey has been a guest contributor to the Ohio Family Blog since 2007.
[Reprinted by permission from the January 22, 2017, edition of the Dayton Daily News, “3 Ways to Raise Empathetic Children”, Gregory Ramey, PhD]
© 2017, Ohio Family Law Blog. All rights reserved. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. The use of this feed on other websites breaches copyright. If this content is not in your news reader, it makes the page you are viewing an infringement of the copyright.
Guest Contributor Gregory Ramey, PhD, Child Psychologist and Dayton Daily News Columnist
Gregory Ramey, PhD, is a nationally recognized child psychologist and columnist who has worked at Dayton Children’s Hospital since 1979. In addition to his weekly column in the Dayton Daily News about effective parenting, Ramey has conducted more than 200 workshops and has recently been quoted in articles in Redbook, Parenting, Ladies Home Journal as well as columns distributed by the New York Times Wire Service.