מחקרים מראים כי היכולת האמפאטית כנראה מגיעה יחד איתנו לעולם. הכותבת מתארת באופן פשוט וקריא, יחד עם הסתמכות על חוקרים בתחום, איך להצמיח ולגדל את היכולת הזו אצל ילדים, מה שיוביל למבוגרים בעלי יכולת אמפאטית, ולעולם טוב יותר.
Empathy’s Natural, but Nurturing It Helps.
By JANE E. BRODY February 16, 2010 NY Times
My grandson Chasen was on a first-grade bus trip when a classmate got carsick. The other children quickly moved away, mumbling words of disgust.
Chasen went over, put his arm on the boy’s shoulder and asked, are you O.K.?
Chasen’s teacher later commended him for showing concern for a child in distress (and rightly so, if you’ll indulge a proud grandma). Empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and recognize and respond to what that person is feeling, is an essential ingredient of a civilized society.
Lacking empathy, people act only out of self-interest, without regard for the well-being or feelings of others. The absence of empathy fosters antisocial behavior, cold-blooded murder, genocide.
The capacity for empathy seems to be innate, and is evident even in other species ‹ the adult elephant who tried to rescue a baby rhino stuck in the mud despite being charged by its mother, as recounted by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy in When Elephants Weep (Delacorte Press, 1995).
Manifestations of empathy often show up early in life, as when a toddler brings a favorite toy or blanket to another child who is injured or in distress. Some experts maintain that infants display empathy when they whimper or cry upon hearing another baby cry.
Children may enter the world with different capacities for empathy, a result of neural connections in the brain. The capacity for empathy may be partly or wholly lacking in disorders like autism and schizophrenia, in which the mind is focused inward.
But in otherwise normal children, the environment in which they are reared can make a big difference in whether empathy is fostered or suppressed.
Healthy self-esteem is essential to empathy, so anything that helps children feel good about themselves will also help them recognize and respond effectively to the feelings of others.
If children are to relate positively to others, they must feel secure themselves and have a secure attachment to another person, said Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin. Infants and young children whose own distress is ignored, scorned or, worse yet, punished can quickly become distrustful of their environment and feel unsafe.
Nancy Eisenberg, a psychologist at Arizona State University, agreed.
“Children need a positive, caring relationship with their parents or caretakers,” she said in an interview, “f they are to be able to go beyond themselves to care about others.”
“Empathy comes from being empathized with,” Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine, wrote in his book: Great Kids (Da Capo, 2007).
Children should also be helped to recognize their own feelings and express them, he wrote. By learning to identify and label their feelings, children are better able to recognize the feelings of others. For example, when a child becomes frustrated with a toy car and throws it across the room, his caretaker could say something like: “You¹re feeling upset because the car isn¹t working the way it should. You don¹t like it when toys don’t work.” Dr. Zahn-Waxler says the kind of discipline a child receives should help the child regulate emotion, to calm down rather than become more agitated. She advises parents to stay calm: “The more emotionally aroused you are, the more aroused the child is likely to become. Hitting or screaming at a child results in anger and fear and interferes with the child’s ability to care for others.²”
Dr. Eisenberg emphasized that in addition to avoiding physical punishment, “children should never be threatened with a loss of love” for misbehavior.
Caretakers can help young children understand how other people feel, say, when a child cries because a toy breaks or is snatched by another child.
When a child acts kindly toward someone, Marjorie Taylor, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, suggests that saying something like “You¹re very kind for doing this” or “You¹re the kind of person who does nice things like that” can help make empathy a part of a young child’s identity.
Even very young children need to know how their behavior affects others, experts say. They need to have it explained why certain behaviors are hurtful or helpful, and how to make up for bad behavior.
“Be really explicit, because children can’t draw conclusions as easily as an older person,’ Dr. Taylor said.
Also helpful, she said, is reading books and talking about how people (or
animals) in a story feel and why they feel that way.
One such book, P. J. the Spoiled Bunny, by Marilyn Sadler (Random House, 1986), can help children appreciate the effects of being selfish and stubborn and always demanding one’s way. The story helps children see how someone’s actions affect the attitudes and responses of others. P. J. learns in the story that by behaving differently he could have more fun with his friends.
For older children, Dr. Greenspan suggested books like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank. Even televised events of natural disasters can help, by encouraging a child to imagine what it must be like for people whose lives are devastated by an earthquake or tsunami.
Although an early start is ideal, experts say it is possible to instill empathy later ‹ even, for example, in children whose emotional security was neglected in an orphanage. Undoing the damage may require extra effort on the part of adoptive parents, as well as unconditional love.
Parents and teachers can set a good example of empathetic behavior by how they behave themselves. The old saying “Do as I do” has particular relevance for fostering empathy in children.
“Parents need to be models of altruism, compassion and caring,” Dr.
Zahn-Waxler said. “It’s not enough to talk the talk. You need to be seen doing it and you need to show caring behavior toward your child.”
Parents who are sympathetic to the feelings of others and rise to a need for help, especially when it is not in their own best interest, can teach children how to identify feelings, think beyond themselves and respond empathetically to others.
In school, teachers who inspire empathy are those who recognize and address the feelings behind a child’s behavior. The most effective teachers are warm and affectionate, and when trying to correct bad behavior they remain calm, not punitive.