Holding the Torch for Empathy

It’s an exciting day for Jenni, co-founder of RESET parenting, today as she received confirmation of her place in the Olympic Torch Relay.  We are very proud that she was chosen as one of the 8000 inspirational people to carry the Olympic Flame this summer as it travels across the UK and thrilled that she has been given such an honour to shine in recognition of her amazing dedication and care that she has shown to her family over the past few years, particularly as I have had to come to terms with a rather debilitating chronic health condition and life past divorce.

During this time Jenni has supported the family and continued with her studies at school showing amazing bravery and courage in the face of adversity, simply knuckling down to the household chores and chivvying her brothers along when I’ve been laid up or in hospital as well as keeping her head down and achieving against the odds at school and in all other aspects of life.  We’ve had an arduous few years but we’ve all pulled through thanks in part to her dedication, love, care and support.  Additionally, the boys have been fantastic along the way, and, she feels that she will be carrying the flame as much for them as for herself but there again that just goes to show the selflessness that lies at the centre of her despite her years.

The fact, too that shines through with Jenni is her empathy that has been so far reaching and helped keep everyone on track to achieve and succeed.  But what is empathy, where does empathy come from and how can you encourage it in your child?

Interestingly I asked my children that very question this morning on the school run?  Bear in mind we have two ethics and philosophy GCSE students in the family, but their answers were illuminating and best summarized as follows:

Empathy it was felt was an ability to deeply understand the emotions of another person and then appropriately respond to these feelings!  The children felt it differed from sympathy in the sense that you have the ability to imagine yourself in the situation with empathy but with sympathy you can actually share the emotion.  You will probably all have your own individual ideas but I thought they summed it up fairly well!

However where it came from produced an immediate two-fold debate.  One child thought it came from the mind and one thought it came from the heart!  I was fascinated by this response for in essence I believe they are both correct – what do you think?  They also bought up four other possibilities that they had learnt about at school as to where empathy comes from – you can probably come up with more:

  • It’s innate
  • It’s nurtured
  • It’s influenced by situational factors
  • It’s a moral imperative

Our 12 year old succinctly said he felt it was something that children copied or mirrored.

Critically therefore, it is important to realise that an empathetic culture can be passed on from parents to children simply by recognizing and respecting their children’s feelings, and teaching their children to manage conflict and negative feelings.  In essence responsive and sensitive parenting where the child is well attached to their parents paves the way forward for these children to become most empathetic.


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