Counselor Chloe’s video on Building Empathy in Children based on the book Born for Love by Maia Szalavitz and Bruce Perry. A transcription of this video is available below.

Video Transcription:

Hi, my name is Chloe and I’m a counselor with Garrett Counseling. I just read this great book and it’s called Born for Love by Maia Szalavitz and Bruce Perry. Now the focus of this book is on how we develop empathy and how our lives are impacted when that development is disrupted. So empathy, first of all, is the ability to feel and relate to the thoughts and feelings of others. It’s through empathy that we form connection and build healthy, long lasting relationships with one another. And I’m sure as you can imagine, the development of empathy is a crucial part of a child’s development. So I just want to take a couple of minutes and go over a few tips that I’ve gathered from this book. My tip number one is to form healthy bonds with your children through consistent love and affection. Szalavitz and Perry tell us development of empathy actually starts very early in infancy through the relationship that they have with their primary caregiver.

When this is a strong relationship, they learn to find comfort and pleasure in others. This is actually a good thing and has to do with the child’s stress response system and learning to care for those around them. Tip number two is to comfort your crying baby. Szalavitz and Perry specifically say “is always good to comfort a crying baby”. They go on to say that a child can’t be loved too much as long as the caregiver is responding to their cues. This is not to say that parents should prevent their children from experiencing any kind of stress. But rather what this is saying is, when they do feel stress say, “Because grandma’s holding me now and I don’t see mom anywhere.” It’s good to provide comfort to them. Through this relationship they will actually learn to self soothe. Tip number three is to limit your child’s screen time.

Now, sometimes this is a much needed tool for parents who just need 20 minutes of quiet time and I can understand that. I’m not saying that children should never watch TV or play video games. But as Szalavitz and Perry put it, you can’t learn empathy from something that can’t empathize. And children need to experience relationships and empathy in order to develop empathy. And they just can’t learn empathy from a TV screen. And your child’s early development screen time is actually not positive for your child’s development, even if they’re educational videos. As we already know, violent video games are linked to aggression. So encourage your child to spend more time outside, instead of in front of a screen. Tip number four is to read to them and encourage perspective taking. Reading is a great way to build a bond with your kiddos. Not only that, but through the reading of fictional books, you give children the opportunity to see the perspective of others.

In this case, it would be the character’s perspective. You can even make this part of your bedtime routine together. And as y’all read through the book, ask questions such as, “What do you think that he’s feeling right now? What do you think she’s going to do next?” This is a great way to encourage your child to take different perspectives. Tip number five and six is to schedule play dates and encourage time spent with extended family. I’ve already shared on the importance of giving children opportunity to experience relationships and empathy in order to develop empathy. Scheduling play dates with other children or spending time with extended family is a great way to encourage this growth as well. Tip number seven is practice self care. And this is for you, mom and dad. This one is so important, our brains need affection in order to develop normally. You might have heard of mirror neurons at some point, when you see someone experience pain and you grab your arm, like you can feel that pain too. Or when somebody just burst out laughing and you can’t help but smile. That is your mirror neurons at work.

So if mom is feeling depressed or anxious, her children will feel that too, and will imitate those emotion. And Born for Love, it actually talks about how children of depressed mothers tend to be more withdrawn. Their mirror neurons are actually copying depression and reproducing it in themselves. Isn’t that wild? So what this tells me is that mom and dad need to take care of themselves. Take care of their emotional needs, not only for their wellbeing, but also the wellbeing of their children as well. And then lastly, tip number eight is to encourage time for play. This one’s just a given. Szalavitz and Perry say “play is at the heart of developing empathy”. So encourage your children to play outdoors and support other parents in doing the same. So that is what I have gathered from Born for Love by Szalavitz and Perry. And thank you for listening. Thanks.