Sunday, August 9, 2015

Emotional Intelligence and The Mighty Power of Empathy

By Sharmi's son

By Sharmi Gowri-Kriszyk*

My 10 years old son and I were in the supermarket and there was an elderly lady behind us. She was in a wheelchair.
He placed one of the check-out divider on the conveyor belt for her and then handed her an extra one should she need one if customers started to come behind her in the queue. I thanked him for that. Then he stood there and kept starring at the lady.

In my head I was thinking: "Oh for God's sake, why is this kid starring at the poor woman?!!! She is going to feel so self-conscious". I thought that he was looking out of curiosity as she was in a wheelchair but I was concerned as it might have felt insensitive to the lady. In an attempt to divert his attention from her I started asking him random questions. It worked, but only for a while, then he looked at her again. In the end, he asked her if she needed a hand and helped her load her groceries to the conveyor belt.

When we exited the shop I told him it was kind of him to help her and asked why he kept starring at her. His reply was really touching; so thoughtful:

"Well, she was an elderly lady and she was in a wheelchair as well so I really wanted to help her. So when she was loading her shopping I kept looking as I wanted to help but was thinking at the same time as I was unsure if it would be the right thing to I was looking as I was thinking", he said.

 "Ok so what were you thinking?", I asked.

"I was thinking that she might like her independence and by me asking to help, it might make her feel like I am thinking she can't do it, it might have made her feel low about about herself. Also if she likes her independence it might make her feel that I am being disrespectful if I just started helping her", my son answered.

 "Wow, that was very thoughtful of you and you are right. It is called empowerment, often elderly people enjoy their daily routine and it gives them a sense of purpose and so they don't like that to be taken away.", I explained.

 "Mmm", said my son.

I explained:  "They feel empowered when they can do these little things by themselves. It is also important that they have that kind of a sense of control". Then my son carried on: "Mm. that's what I was thinking...that's why I didn't offer my help cause I was like shall I or shouldn't I...but in my heart I wanted to help her but at the same time I wanted to be respectful"
I commented:  "Yeah, and you did the right thing cause rather than just intervene by helping. You took some time to observe and think, then you asked her if she needed some help"

 "Yes", he agreed. "Only when she agreed, did you start helping. So to me it seems like the right approach to take. You offered to help, but at the same time you didn't take over so you were being respectful and considerate of her needs", I said.

“Empowerment and dignity mean honoring their independence as much as possible, even to the point of some undercaring and reasonable risk taken on the part of the frail and disabled homemaker, by choice” (Boldy, Heumann & McCall, 2000).

This experience reminded me of the significance of ensuring that elderly and disabled people continue to have some form of independence in order to maintain their rights, dignity and empowerment. This anecdote describes the conversation between my son and myself which highlights how you as a parent can facilitate the Emotional Intelligence (EQ) of children. The dialoge between my son and myself reflects the stimulating communication which creates an opportunity for children to develop their Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in form of critical thinking, empathy, insight and mentalisation.

This approach is aligned with the principles and values of peaceful parenting with its vision in guiding children using non-punitive methods. Like the vision of Genevieve Simperingham, The Founder of The Way of the Peaceful Parenting, my vision is that when guiding children, it is important to not resort to coercing methods like punishment (threat, shaming, corporal punishment, time-outs and enforced consequences, e.g. removal of privileges) and any methods that focus on rewards (bribe, star charts, treats ect.) in order to encourage desired behaviour from children.

I believe that guiding children involves a focus on maintaining a strong clear and trusting bond with the child and using respectful communication skills. The above example of the dialoge which took place between my son and myself shows how asking children thought-provoking questions and doing role-play with them could facilitate them to empathise with others. This is a technique I have used with the children I work with however I have also used it with my own child since he was aged 3-4.


The beginning of my career in the field of psychology was when I had the privilege to work as an Assistant Teacher for Special Needs. Whilst working as a SEN assistant teacher for children with different difficulties but mainly Behavioural Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD), Special Education Needs (SEN) and learning disabilities I learned how important it was to create opportunities to boost their empowerment.

One of the earliest experiences during my clinical training as a psychologist took place within a Specialist Physical Health Setting. This meant working with individuals who had chronic physical ill-health and with elderly. My role often involved supporting my clients with their emotional difficulties related to their ill-health or old age.

As a result of the sudden onset of their physical disability or limited mobility they started to experience a wide range of emotional difficulties. Some of their difficulties included but were not limited to:

Their identity
Loss of confidence or self-esteem
Guilt and shame
A sense of losing their rights, dignity and empowerment as a result of losing their independence

One of the main things that struck me was the fact that all of them longed to feel empowered. Each and everyone of them wanted to feel empowered in order to have a sense of control. It offered them a sense of purpose despite the adversities they faced. This was often what seemed like a major contributing factor to their feelings of guilt and shame and their loss of confidence or self-esteem - an even the sense of losing their identity.


Following the publication of this blog many people contacted asking me how I have helped my son developing these skills from a young age. So, I asked him and this was his response:

"Whenever there is a problem in school, like say if I see a kid being mean to another kid, I would ask them: How would you feel if someone did like this to you? The kid will say: I’ll be fine. Or they’ll talk like it is no big deal them being mean to someone else. So my point is that shows the way my mum and I talk with each other makes me able to put myself into other people's shoes. For example, you (mum) don't just say this is what you have done wrong and point out what I have done wrong but instead you explain by using role-play: You give an example where you turn the situation around so what the person is experiencing would be what I would be experiencing in that example. So say if I did something that was not nice to a boy then you would do role-play where I am that boy and you’ll do or say what I did to that boy. You’ll then ask how does it feel when I say that? How does it feel when I do that? Why do you think it feels like that? You ask many questions like that.  That always make me think. It always help me to realise how others might feel and it helped me to be more considerate of others, in like how I behave and talk and how I treat others"

* This content was kindly shared by one of our dear members of our Facebook group Emotional Intelligence for Kids.
Copyright © 2015 Sharmi Gowri-Kriszyk under Stepping Stones Psychology. All Rights Reserved. Should you wish to adopt attachment-based parenting strategies in your family, contact Sharmi, Principal Psychologist, Clinical Director & Founder of Stepping Stones Psychology. Sharmi offers psychological services both nationally and internationally.

*Contact No: (+44)07935247496


Boldy, D , Heumann, L & McCall. (2000). Empowering Frail Elderly People: Opportunities and Impediments in Housing, Health, and Support Service Delivery. USA: Praeger Publishing

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