Could Empathy Make You a Better Parent?
How do you foster empathy as a parent, is what 99FM’s MYD Heart asked Namibian Clinical Psychologist, Ute Sinkala, who notes that within the context of parenting, “empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of your children.” Understanding the feelings of your children will help you in being a better parent, explains Aha! Parenting, “empathy… is a means of connection, and of helping our child process emotion.”
Ute explains empathetic parenting saying, “We have all heard the most simplistic definition of empathy: ‘Putting yourself in the shoes of someone else’. As a parent it means try to recall what you felt as a child. Remember excitement and curiosity as a small child and adolescent. Remember being a teenager and thinking you know what you want and what is best for you, as well as feeling that being controlled by your parents is horrible. Remember peer pressure, wanting to be liked and wanting to fit in, perhaps feeling rejected by peers or perhaps feeling ugly or wanting to just try different things. Remember trying to explain something to your parents and being met with mistrust and accusations and feeling frustrated thus deciding lying is easier.”
“Parenting styles are different and different stages in the child’s life require different parenting styles.”
When asked how a parent can be empathetic to their child’s needs while still maintaining authority within their relationship with their child, Ute explains that, “In a child’s early years of life, you need to exercise more control and direction as your child is completely dependent on you. During these formative years, the goal as a parent is to trust yourself and your intuition. Don’t take too many peoples’ advice, it will confuse you and cause conflict. Learn the facts about your children’s development so you know what to expect and when. Ask for specific support when you need it from family, friends and professionals. Parenting styles are different and different stages in the child’s life require different parenting styles.”
Of the many different styles of parenting, Ute recommends the Authoritative parenting style. She explains, “Authoritative parents have high expectations of their children, but nurture their children with understanding and support.” Harmful styles of parenting, Ute Explains, include “Permissive, Authoratarian and Neglectful. Permissive parents overindulge their children with any and every wish. Authoratarian parenting style is known as the very strict style. On its own, this style is very harmful because these parents are demanding without being supportive. Authoritarian parents do not foster an environment where open dialogue between parent and child is possible. They enforce an extremely strict set of rules and unrealistic expectations. They usually rely on punishment to demand obedience. The children raised by Authoratarian parents often feel trapped and unloved; they develop resentment towards their parents, and have no trust in their parents as well as themselves.” Of these different styles of parenting, Ute explains that neglect is still the most harmful parenting style.
However with Authoritative as the overriding parenting style, explains Ute, “the child will make the right choices and they will be able to learn from and bounce back from mistakes with the parents’ support.”
“It is counter-productive if a parent shields a child from all pain and struggles. It is essential for parents to foster an environment where the child can develop age appropriate independence. Overprotected babies and children can become too attached and develop separation anxiety.”
Talking discipline in the context of parenting styles, Ute notes “It is important to exercise age appropriate discipline to allow you as parent some form of control over your children. The important word emphasised here is age appropriate. You can learn what age appropriate is by reading about child development stages. You then combine this knowledge with the information you know about your child’s likes and dislikes to determine age appropriate individualised rewards, incentives, and punishments. Empathy can only be fostered by listening, listening and listening and double checking to make sure you really and truly hear your child. Children have opinions that are valuable and deserve respect.”
When asked if over protection when it comes to parenting is counter-productive to raising autonomous children, Ute says “Many parents struggle to see their children as individuals. They struggle to accept that even when as young as 3, 6 or 12 years of age, their children will have their own individual personality, behavioural, style and opinions and that children will not always be obedient. Parents often mistake a child’s opinion and questions for disobedience. It is helpful when a parent removes their personal feelings from such situations and first listens to the child, clarifies and asks questions. It is not helpful to say ‘When I was a child my parents never allowed…’ it is also equally harmful to say ‘Do what you want and bump your head’. You are the parent, not their best friend or police.”
“It is counter-productive if a parent shields a child from all pain and struggles. It is essential for parents to foster an environment where the child can develop age appropriate independence. Overprotected babies and children can become too attached and develop separation anxiety. This refers to anxiety or fear of being separated from the parents or other caretakers that the child is attached to. Separation anxiety can become severe and evolve into a clinical disorder. When children live too sheltered lives they also fail to develop coping mechanisms, problem solving skills, and conflict management skills that they will require to cope in the world outside of their parents home. Being sheltered can hamper development of effective communication skills. Often children who are raised in very tightly controlled authoritarian households can’t wait to leave the home and don’t want to return once they leave. At times such children develop rebellious behaviour or experiment with dangerous substances.”
Some warning signs to look out for in your parenting styles include, “If you find yourself feeling the need to say no to everything your child asks. If you become extremely anxious whenever your child is away from you.” says Ute, who goes on to say, “be informed, and educated about children. Take interest in your children’s lives including their friends or interests for example. Negotiate with your child instead of being stubborn because of strict rules or fear. Deal with your own fears and childhood issues. Just because these things happened to you it does not mean it will happen to your child.”
“Live as the adult you want your child to turn into so that the child can learn through what you model, not only what you say.”
Ute’s shares that to raise a child that will be able to make their own good decisions, “Remember that your children are individuals who live their own paths. Your job as parent is to love, support, guide and respect. Educate yourself about child development as much as you can in order to lower, your own as well as, your child’s anxiety. Learn to expect conflict and deal with conflict between you and your child. Answer questions honestly and even learn to say I don’t know if you don’t, and when you find the answer get back to your child. Learn to apologise and show your child that adults also make mistakes and can be humble. Live as the adult you want your child to turn into so that the child can learn through what you model, not only what you say. It’s easier said than done, thus be willing to be patient and persistent. Parenting leaves no room for giving up.
Get in touch with Ute Sinkala of Sinkala Psychology on +264 61 30 9376
By Kirsty Watermeyer