Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Robbyn Peters Bennett

Empathic Parenting: Empathy as a Foundation of Family Life
Robbyn Peters Bennett and Edwin Rutsch

 

Robbyn Peters Bennett, LMHC, CMHS is a psychotherapist, educator, and child advocate who specializes in the treatment of trauma-related mental health problems resulting from the effects of early childhood stress, abuse and neglect. She is the founder of StopSpanking.org, a non-profit dedicated to educating the public on the dangers of spanking. She is on the steering committee of The U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children.

 

In this dialog we talk about how science shows that we are biologically wired for empathy and how trauma can block it and ways to restore blocked empathy.  We also discuss the role of empathy in different parenting approaches.


Children Playing with a Cat, by Mary Cassatt  (wikiart.org)

" I think for some, there is a religious idea that children are innately sinful, and innately evil even maybe.  But what neuroscience is saying is that children are innately empathic. That the fundamental neurobiological orientation of the brain, is it learns though empathy and through co-regulation and that children have an innate need to connect and they have an innate need to feel good with us and to enjoy us."


Sub Conference: Home & Family

 

 
 
 

 

Empathic Parenting: Robbyn Peters Bennett and Edwin Rutsch

 

 

 

 

 

Transcripts
(pending)
 

9:00
About Supernanny Reality TV Show.

Is based on the British model to support the Empire. Disciplinarians who paddled and caned the children and often the older children caned the younger children.

 

This is the tradition of the boarding schools and of course thankfully they are not that way any more. The injury to the attachment is profound to children when they leave their parents at such an young age. And Supernanny, I think, is born out of the nanny concept, where the mother is separated from the family. She may not even want to breast feed, she is not going to have a lot of contact with the children.

 

The nanny's the one that does all that daily affection and connection. That is where the children really bond, is with that daily affection and connection and warmth and touching and holding and laughing. So this idea that to be seen and not heard and not to be seen that much. So we see Supernanny as an evolution but she is not totally evolved yet. She is not quite the peaceful nanny. And that is not to say that nanny's can't be wonderful, they can be wonderful if they integrate into the family and they support mom and dad but not separate the children but rather enhance that connection.

 

 

Q. In terms of the empathy part, what is the role of empathy in positive discipline and the other parenting approaches? What insights to you have about that?

 

10:30
I think for some, there is a religious idea that children are innately sinful, and innately evil even maybe. But what neuro science is saying is that children are innately empathic. That that is the fundamental neurobiological orientation of the brain, is it learns though empathy and through co-regulation and that children have an innate need to connect and they have an innate need to feel good with us and to enjoy our us. And that the more they are attached to their mom and dad or primary care giver whoever that person is, that, that is foundation to brain development. That is the foundation to being able to self regulate because if a child feels secure with you, they take cues from you in terms of how to cope with the environment. In the first four years the self regulatory equipment is developing and it is primarily feed through this attachment, through this connection of unconditional regard, unconditional love. 

 

So that you don't want to withhold reward of the relationship, you want to be in it and generate a feeling of it's you and me. You and me are always problem solving, dealing with the world, dealing with ourselves, you and me. That sense of you and me is fundamentally how we are. I was listen to this psychologist, I wish I could remember his name. He's a neuroscientist, he said, we essentially are, our relationships. That is who we essential are.

 

 

Q. I interviewed Marco Iacoboni who is a neuroscientist and wrote the book, 'Mirroring People' and I asked him how we could create an empathic culture  and he said that if people realized how mirror neurons worked, and how we mirror the world around us and we are constantly in this empathic relationship that would be a basis building block. That if people realized that we are not cut off from each other, that we are not separate and that we are connect and  that's the fundamental way that people are.

 

I think there is also a history of trauma in our culture from so many sources, whether it is warfare, poverty, trans generational violence of alcoholism and abuse. Our trust in that you and me experience has been really compromised and I think that is why we punish. Because we feel alone against our child. Now I have to control my child rather than, my child is distressed and having a lot of trouble here, this tantrum is distress not defiance and they are not doing well. How can I hang in with my child and help them recover. How can I help then come back into equilibrium, back into regulation by myself being present and mirroring their feeling or being present with then or understanding, slowing down being with.

 

 

14:00
Q. So your saying we are in this empathic relationship but trauma blocks that relationship and it's finding ways of getting past that trauma?

 

14:12
Yes, yes. Trauma creates kind of a heightened arousal or a dissociation for a lot of people so your level of reactivity is set higher than it should be in the response to distress, and when your stress arousal is sort of operating at higher level, then your ability to have empathy is compromised because of course the capacity to have empathy is state dependent, meaning the higher my arousal the lower my empathy. So the more I am upset with my child the less I can feel into their world because that part of the brain just shuts downs.

 

So if I've been traumatized and I get easily distressed, easily angry, easily overwhelmed, or anxious, the it is much harder to maintain that empathic connection. So part of what we are learning is how do I stay connected to me, how do I help myself with my anxiety, how do I stay regulated and calm and really looking at that.

 

 

 

 

 

 Violence -- a family tradition | TEDxBellingham