Parents are routinely encouraged to empathize. Parentsʼ empathy is said to have the long-term benefit of promoting healthy social and emotional development and the short-term benefit of increasing kidsʼ cooperation. But what exactly is empathizing? What is it that parents are supposed to do?
The idea of empathizing can be confusing and vague. It usually makes us think of kindness, communication, and talking about feelings. So is empathizing just asking, say, “How are you feeling?” in a nice tone of voice? ImaginEmpathy says, Nope, no way, not at all.
The core idea of ImaginEmpathy is that it is essential to separate the idea of having empathy from the idea of showing empathy. Having empathy is a solo act of the imagination. Showing empathy involves communicating what you have imagined to someone else. Why draw this distinction? Because empathizing is especially valuable when communication breaks down, at those times when our kids canʼt or wonʼt tell us whatʼs up. Separating the having from the showing reveals that we can use empathizing to repair communication breakdowns and/or to understand our kids’ experience in ways that they are unable to understand themselves.
ImaginEmpathy for Parents presents a way of thinking about empathy that is designed to help us empathize with our children unconditionally, with or without their buy-in, regardless of how good they are at expressing their feelings in words.
Copyright Noah Susswein Ph.D. 2014