The Keio Journal of Medicine
Online ISSN : 1880-1293
Print ISSN : 0022-9717
ISSN-L : 0022-9717
Roots of Empathy: responsive parenting, caring societies
Mary Gordon
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2003 Volume 52 Issue 4 Pages 236-243


What is common in aggression and in abusive/neglectful parenting is low levels of empathy. Fostering empathy the ability to identify with another person's feelings can serve as an antidote to aggression and is crucial to good parenting. Poor parenting and aggression cut across all socioeconomic levels of the community and, as such, empathy needs to be fostered in all children. During the period of rapid brain development, adversity has a devastating impact on the baby's developing brain. Repeated experiences of stress are hardwired into the brain, creating damaging pathways. Risk factors such as domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, maternal depression, maternal addictions, and poverty are not just additive to the vulnerable developing brain; they are multiplicative in their impact. The parent is the baby's lifeline, mitigating stress for them and helping them to learn to regulate their emotions. The impact of poor parenting on a child's life is profound, resulting in insecure attachments which lead to a spectrum of inadequate coping mechanisms, poor emotional regulation, diminished learning potential and low competence. Responsive and nurturing parenting is the key to optimal early childhood development; it allows the young brain to develop in a way that is less aggressive and more emotionally stable, social and empathic. Good early childhood development leads to good human development. We must match our investment where the opportunity is most ripe building parenting capacity. The `Roots of Empathy' program offers real hope in breaking the intergenerational transference of poor parenting and violence.

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