Thursday, November 8, 2012

Brain Rules for Baby: Empathy

Brain Rule: Start with Empathy

The premise of this chapter was the fact that more than  80% of couples experience a huge drop in marital quality during the transition to parenthood.  This then effects a newborn's developing brain and nervous system.  I feel very luckily that overall I think my husband and I must be in the 20% here.  Other than a major fight the night I gave birth which unfortunately continued the days following I don't think we've had a drop in marital quality.  If anything I feel our son has strengthened our relationship.  Once my husband got over that initial shock, which caused our fight, that "holy crap my life will never be the same," we've been good.  I think this may be different if we were not a military family since so much of our day to day lives with each other would have changed.  My husband however has been away for much of my son's life thus far which although difficult, having my son gives me something to keep me occupied while he is gone and also gives us someone to work for.

The most important factor in creating a buffer against the common relationship pit falls is to be aware of them.  When you see yourself going down a negative path, stop, reflect, and make a change.  I think my husband and I are really good at doing this.

The best place to start when something is wrong is with empathy.  My husband is far better at this than I am.  It is very natural for him to react in this way.  Apparently, I need to start working on my own ability to do this as the book claims: Choosing to empathize is so powerful it can change the developing nervous systems of infants whose parents regularly practice it.  Woah, that's some heavy stuff!

According to the book, there are 3 key ingredients of empathy:

Affect detection – recognize the change in the emotional disposition of someone else
Imaginative transposition – transpose what you observe onto your own psychological interiors – try on the perceived feelings as if they were clothes, then observe how you would react given similar circumstances

Boundary formation – realize at all times that the emotion is happening to the other person, never to you. (This is the area I think I need to work on the most.  When something is making my husband or son upset I will take it very personally.  I have a hard time stepping back from the situation and becoming fully engage with the other person's feelings without letting mine get in the way.  I did the same thing as a teacher.  I can now see what a difference separating out my feelings can make.)

Basically, in order to improve all relationships, whether that be with a child, spouse, student, etc, one must demonstrate an empathy reflex. 

There are 2 simple steps:
1. Describe the emotional changes you think you see. (i.e. "Son, you sound like you are very frustrated.)
2. Make a guess as to where those emotional changes came from.  (i.e. "I think you are feeling so frustrated because you are really hungry and dinner isn't ready yet."

When I first read this book my son was still an infant but even then I would quietly whisper in his ear the steps for empathy.  It was amazing how he would calm himself.  It just goes to show you how much your energy/mood effects your child.  I try hard to instead of getting upset when my son is crying figure out what the cause is, label his feelings, and relate to them.  I'll admit though, at times, it can be difficult when he just won't stop screaming to even listen to me.  I try to be as patient as I can be since I know in the end it will help him to better regulate his feelings.

Although I think I'm doing a good job with the empathy reflex when it comes to my son, I am still working on it when it comes to my husband!  Hey, you can't win them all.

No comments:

Post a Comment