Focus on the Empathy

In an opinion piece by Katie Hurley for the Washington Times, the topic of “shake it off parenting” is explored, along with a personal look at the kind of impact it can have on a child.

First, let’s take a step back and define “shake it off parenting” (SOP) as told by Hurley. In essence, it is the opposite of helicopter parenting. Instead of the parent or authority figure hovering closely over their child’s life, and in many cases making decisions for them, SOP takes it in a completely opposite direction.

In a way, this is understandable. It’s demonstrably unhealthy for children to expect someone to pick up the pieces of their mistakes and shortcomings. However, when we encourage kids to “shake it off”, we are sacrificing a crucial developmental moment: learning to empathize with others.

Next time your child  is down, talk about it with empathy.

Next time your child is down, talk about it with empathy.

The SOP parent is one who is obsessed with a child succeeding on their own. Unlike the helicopter parent, for the SOP a child’s experiences with failure are tantamount to success later in life. But perhaps this kind of parent-child interaction misses the point. Through this myopic parenting lens, parents’ dreams of a successful life for their children could backfire. Hurley cites a longitudinal study that sheds light on parenting styles as it relates to child’s future happiness. The findings, that children who perceived their parents as empathetic turned out to be happier in adulthood, runs counter to many common assumptions.

In contrast is a study by the Harvard School of Education. In this one, children expressed that their parents were more concerned with personal achievement and happiness than demonstrating some kind of care towards others.

With this information firmly under her belt, Hurley argues that SOP has three negative effects on children:

  • As discussed above, it saps them of empathy. Children are not given the space or experience to find the value in understanding the feelings of others.
  • Achievement loses its intrinsic value. Children learn to compete for competition’s sake, and knock down others on the way to the top. They can fail to understand the situational differences between them and someone else.
  • Shaming children dampens self-confidence. When they are hurt physically or emotionally, and their feelings are dismissed or they are told to “toughen up”, they may question their own strength and self worth.

It’s interesting to see these observations from the opinion of a parent. It may be an opinion, but the data is in: we can’t underestimate the role of empathy in a child’s development.