Category Archives: Empathy

Want to Know the Secret to Supporting Your Perfectionist Child?
Anxious little girl

Q. My daughter freezes when she is asked a question on the spot or during exams because she is fearful of being wrong, not knowing the answers or not being able to complete the entire tests. What advice should I give her to help her overcome this fear?

A. Of course you want to help her deal with her fears. Most parents, I find, live by the myth that you can help your child by telling them what you have learned as more experienced human. Makes sense. You want to tell her something that will make her see the light and stop being fearful of getting it wrong. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Advice rarely helps unsolicited.

Your daughter was likely born with sensitivities for self-awareness, a desire for approval, as well as strong capabilities. This can underscore any ideas she has of how important those capabilities are to gain the approval she wants.

As parents, most of us are unaware of how our expectations of our children effect their behavior. Of course, we want our children to do their best, but often inadvertently we send messages that we expect their best all the time. “How many times have I told you?” can send a message that “You should know better,” “Something is wrong with you,” and “Why don’t you understand?” to a sensitive child who comes to fear she isn’t getting it right.

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Basic Trust: Seeing All that Glorious Light
New Parents

As I sit blissfully holding my infant grandson, I am struck by his fragility and vulnerability. He is dependent on us, his caregivers. And we in turn look to every possible behavioral sign to determine what needs caring for. Is he hungry, tired, does he have an internal pain, does he need a burp, a suck, a bounce, a diaper change? We rotate through the possibilities hoping to land on the right one, thrilled when we do, worried when we don’t. 

When he’s content, he coos and looks around curious about all he sees. When something is wrong, he makes a pained face and cries. We answer those cries. We will do so for a good long time to come. 

Caregivers must pay attention to behavior that signals a problem the child is having—a need that must be met. As he grows, his cries turn to whines, hurts to frustration and anger. Sensations of discomfort, pain, and hunger get complicated with jealousy, confusion, shame, fear, embarrassment, anger. As he learns he is a separate entity, he understands that he can be left alone, yelled at, and made to feel bad. He learns he can be a problem to those he loves and needs the most.

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‘Tis the Season for Compassion
Holiday Hug

Expectations are always high at this time of year. It’s the season for joy, friendly people wishing each other cheer, generosity of spirit, and family gatherings. But just as often, it’s not for so many.

The stress and tension of buying gifts, satisfying expectant children, and anticipating family gatherings fraught with anxiety and judgement are also heightened at this time of year. Loneliness, grief, and loss feel heavier now than at any other time. Suicide statistics peak. And on top of all the usual stress, we are in our second holiday season marred by a world-wide pandemic with a new and possibly scarier variant at our doorstep. The unhappy and the sick feel more isolated, rejected, and angry at this time of year.

Now that I have fully depressed all of you, I do not mean to be a downer. What I want is to prod your compassion and empathy to understand that this season is just as hard for many as it can be joyful for others.

Can you allow a family member’s, even your child’s, sadness, depression, anger, without allowing it to spoiling your own happiness? Can you be the support that a loved one needs without worrying you must do something about it, feeling guilty and then backing away because you don’t know what to do? Are you free to feel how you want without fearing the judgment of others?

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