Empathising with children 'can cause health problems for parents'

There is nothing that quite matches unconditional love and support that a parent gives to their child, but a recent study showed that empathising with your child comes at a cost.

A study at Northwestern University and University of British Columbia examined how a more empathetic parent was likely to have higher levels of systemic inflammation. 

This is when your immune system releases masses of proteins that spread throughout the body and can have an effect on the interactions between cells.  

The study examined the psychological and physiological correlation of parental empathy in 247 parent-adolescents relationships over a 14 day period.

This was done by analysing the parents’ relationship with their children’ relationship quality, stress, depression and time spent together alongside parental empathy.

Meanwhile, the adolescents, who were aged between 13 and 16, completed two weeks of daily diary reporting on their ability to control their emotions. 

Both the parents and adolescents provided blood samples to measure systemic inflammation.

Their relationship was also measured where the adolescents scaled the harshness of their parents’ disciplinary techniques and the warmth and support from their parents. 

Though the research showed that being empathetic makes people feel good about themselves, there was also some negative impact. 

In order to be more empathetic and supportive to their child, a parent had to learn to suppress their own emotion which is known to increase physiological responses to stress. 

Although this had a positive effect on the adolescent, who felt more supported and secure, those who suppressed their emotions frequently also showed higher levels of inflammation.

The ability for a parent to empathise with their child is a central role to good parenting but, of course, all good things come at a cost.

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