LOWELL – Practicing empathy can help build relationships and reduce stress, and can especially help when it comes to children, according to a webinar held Thursday as part of the Lowell City of Learning Festival.
In the Zoom webinar, led by social worker Koa Goode and sponsored by the Mahoney Family Fund, attendees learned about the power of empathy to reduce stress and improve adult-child relationships.
âEmpathy is your pain in my heart,â Goode said during the presentation. “It conveys the connectivity you need to practice empathy.”
Goode, a case manager supervisor at the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, was recognized by the National Exchange Club last year for her commitment to child abuse prevention and her work with families.
In the webinar, which was attended by nearly 50 people, participants were encouraged to share what they saw as empathy; responses included “acceptance”, “emotional understanding and sensitivity to others”, “putting yourself in other people’s shoes” and “the ability to understand someone’s situation from their perspective”.
Goode pointed out the difference between empathy and sympathy, saying that trying to see the bright side of a bad situation is rarely helpful to the struggling person.
When it comes to children in particular, she said, empathy is needed because they can’t process their emotions the same way adults do. She said the brain does not complete its development until the age of 25.
As an example, Goode asked participants to close their eyes as she said, âDon’t jump in the pool. Don’t jump on the bed. Don’t run down the street.
âMost of you have probably seen yourself doing the exact same thing that I asked you not to do,â she said. âYou have the cognitive courage not to do it and the physical ability to limit yourself, but the kids continue to develop it. Again, they need a little empathy.
Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, when routines are so disrupted, children can have a hard time understanding their surroundings.
Goode recommended that when participants find it difficult to use empathy, they use the âSTOPâ method: stop, breathe, observe your thoughts and emotions, then continue.
âYou have a parent who is stressed and a child who is stressed, and there is no way to connect,â she said. âEmpathy will become a bridge. It will help you stop and understand what is really going on right now.
The Tewksbury-based Mahoney Family Fund, which sponsored the conference, works with local nonprofits to alleviate domestic violence and child abuse. The fund raises funds and educates organizations that deal with young people in crisis, trauma and violence.
For more information about the fund, visit mahoneyfamilyfund.com.
The Lowell City of Learning Festival features large events celebrating a variety of topics as part of the effort to encourage learning in the community. The 2021 festival lasts until Saturday and includes online and in-person events.
For more information about the festival, visit lowellcityoflearning.org.