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HomeHealth & WellbeingEmpathetic Moms Create Empathetic Kids

Empathetic Moms Create Empathetic Kids

Mothers who are empathetic are likely to pass that trait down to their kids. Which is important, since research shows that empathetic kids are generally happier, build stronger relationships, and are more successful.

Researchers at the University of Virginia followed 200 people from the time they were teens until they had kids of their own. By filming moms, their teens, and later those same teens as adults counseling their own kids, the researchers were able to observe three generations.

What they discovered: “I think one of the things that was most interesting is that the social skills that teens were practicing with their close friends during those adolescent years, ended up being really important for the way they parented,” said psychologist Jessie Stern, a research scientist at the school. “So the amount of empathy that teens were showing with their close friends, and just the amount of practice that they were getting in those close friendships, seemed to predict their own kids’ later empathy.”

The results of their work convinced the researchers that empathetic behavior – i.e., the ability to see things from the perspective of another – must be modeled by parents.

If a parent is patient and validates a child’s thoughts and feelings – particularly when they are facing inevitable coming of age challenges – that child is far more likely to follow suit in their own lives and later when raising their own children.

“When teens were bringing a problem to their mom, the mom was doing more validation, showing understanding of the teens problems. The teen had firsthand experience of feeling understood, of receiving empathy. And then they were able to pay that forward in their friendships,” noted Stern.

The study is the latest in a series of longitudinal studies being conducted into the lives of teens.


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