Do Parents Misjudge Their Child’s Happiness?

Your child, who is normally well-behaved, gets into trouble and you’re completely surprised; it’s inconceivable to you that your child could have acted out in such an aggressive way.

Or, maybe you thought your child was doing well in school only to find out that his grades are far below what you believed them to be.

Or perhaps your child’s friends tell you that he is depressed or has an eating disorder — news that completely shocks you.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Egocentric Bias and Cognitive Dissonance

In psychology, we know that two things keep us from actually recognizing how happy or sad our child is. One is called egocentric bias and the other is called cognitive dissonance. Egocentric bias makes you believe that your child is happy or sad based on your own experiences and emotions. On the other hand, cognitive dissonance makes it difficult for you to recognize trouble when it’s close to you, as is the case of your own child. As a result, you can easily misread and fail to recognize accurately your child’s state of mind.

Parents of younger children tend to judge their children as more often happy, while parents of adolescents tend to see their children as less happy and more sad. Simply put, this is because parents are remembering their own feelings at these stages of childhood and superimposing them onto their own children. The problem with this, of course, is that all too often, we over- or under-estimate our child’s state of mind, and therefore, problems. All too often, relying on your own experiences and emotions causes you to miss the signs of danger in your child. The opposite is also true, and you may misidentify feelings of happiness and joy in your child.

The Empathic Process

Communication is the key that can help you as a parent receive important information about your child’s state of mind. Using my empathic process can help give you and your child cues that will open the door to a healthy and happy relationship. When remediation and intervention are necessary for a troubled child, good parent-child communication can prevent the escalation of danger, and perhaps, even suicide.

If you have a more valid assessment of when your child is happy or not, you can readily intervene when necessary. On the other hand, clearly identifying your child’s state of wellbeing can help you relax control and alleviate the tension of overbearing interference. My empathic process gives you the chance to touch base with your child; check in and find out how he is doing and how he really feels, such as if he’s depressed, sad, bullied, bipolar, or abusing illegal substances. By creating a safe space, where your child can be seen, heard, and invested in his own feelings and experiences, you can recognize and acknowledge who your child really is, and how your child really feels, rather than projecting onto your child the influence of your emotions. Then together, you and your child have the opportunity to create clear and healthy strategies for problem-solving. As you get to know your child realistically — the good, the bad and the ugly — you will love him unconditionally and be loved back that same way in return.

In the final analysis, because of egocentric bias, parents often misjudge the sadness or happiness of their children, which can lead to serious consequences. By being disconnected from what your child is going through and how he feels, you are unable to intervene or help him when necessary. As a result, many serious problems can fall through the cracks, such as behavioral issues, mental issues, substance abuse, depression, and even suicide. Therefore, when in doubt, seek professional help.

When Professional Help Is Needed

Professionals are trained to be objective and to look at the whole picture without projecting any familial patterns onto your child. On the other hand, through my empathic process, you can unlayer your psychological prejudices and projections, and find that this awareness allows you know your child better than anyone.

You as a parent always have an edge in evaluating your own child because you hold the key to his history. The important thing to remember is to be objective through empathy, and to not use defense which can cause projection to influence your objectivity through projection. Thus, the smart counselor interviews both parent and child independently, making an ally out of both. Thus, the counselor, parent, and child become part of a home team, with the same goal in mind, which is the open communication necessary for a strong, happy and healthy communication and relationship between parent and child.