A project supporting parents to develop children’s empathy and compassion

Dr. SIU Yat-fan

Dr. SIU Yat-fan


Project funded by Research Grant Council: Enhancing Parents’ Competency to Support the Social and Emotional Needs of Young Children Through a Parent-Based Empathy and Compassion Intervention

Principal Investigator: Dr. SIU Yat-fan (Assistant Professor, Department of Counselling & Psychology)

Funding period: 30 months

Amount awarded: HK$1,059,439


Dr. SIU said the mental health of young children in Hong Kong is worsening. According to the data from the Hospital Authority, the number of children seeking treatment for mental problems has been increasing for 5% annually over the past few years. One in seven primary school student shows signs of depression and one in three is at risk of committing suicide (Ng, 2017; Yau, 2017). A recent survey administered by the HK Federation of Youth Groups found that 43% of primary and secondary teachers are lacking time and expertise to manage their students’ emotional need (Ng, 2018). This reflects that parents also play an important role in emotional education. Parent- child interaction and relationship are significantly related to children’s social and emotional development and their well-being. Nevertheless, many parents do not understand their children’s social and emotional needs. Their lack of patience, empathy and compassion to their children has intensified the problems. Since research has demonstrated that aged 3 to 6 is a golden period for the social and emotional learning of children, earlier preventive parent-based intervention that can benefit the social and emotional needs of young children is critical.

In recent years, social and emotional learning of children is a topic that have drawn the attention of local researchers and practitioners. Nevertheless, evidence-based intervention programme that links supportive parenting practice with the social and emotional needs of kindergarteners is lacking. This project will develop and validate a parent-based empathy and compassion intervention programme to empower parents to support the social and emotional needs of their children (aged 4 to 6). The proposed parent-based intervention will include four 2-hr bi-weekly psychoeducational sessions for parents. These sessions will raise parents’ awareness of their children and their own social and emotional needs; and enhance parents’ empathy and compassion to support the social and emotional needs of their children. Besides, there will be 2 monthly 20-min individual parent review sessions to discuss their practice of learned skills and to further build their competence. A mobile app will be developed and weekly take-home practice on empathy and compassion will be given thru the mobile app to reinforce parents’ learning and to keep track of their learning progress. The mobile app will also serve as a platform for the research team to communicate with the participating parents to sustain their learning by sharing effective strategies to address their children’s social and emotional needs.

According to Dr. SIU, this study will have four phases. The 1st phase (10months) will involve designing and developing the curriculum and materials for the parent-based empathy and compassion intervention programme to target the social and emotional needs of their children.

In the 2nd phase (6months), a pilot study will be conducted to try out the interventional materials and to test the implementation fidelity. Forty Chinese parents and their children aged 4 to 6 years will be recruited from local kindergartens for this pilot study. The interventional curriculum and materials will be evaluated and modified following feedback and reviews from the parents.

Use neurophysiological technology to measure effectiveness

In the 3rd phase (10months), 100 Chinese parent-child dyads will be recruited from local kindergartens and randomly assigned to either the experimental group or a wait-list control group. Self-reported questionnaires, neurophysiological measures and two 15-min observations of parent-child interaction will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of empathy-based and compassion-based parenting practice. Furthermore, semi-structured interviews with parents will also be conducted to obtain their feedback after the 8-wk intervention.

The final phase (4 months) will involve data analysis and dissemination of findings. We posit that parents will build a better understanding of the social and emotional needs of their children and themselves after the intervention. In addition, parents will show higher levels of empathy and compassion for their children and as well as for themselves, improving parent-child relationship and supporting their children’s psychological well-being.

The proposed study will enrich our theoretical understanding of the important role of empathy and compassion in building supportive parenting practice targeting the social and emotional needs of young children. In practical terms, it will develop and validate the effectiveness of parent-based empathy and compassion intervention as an early preventive approach in promoting the emotional, social and psychological well-being of parents and children.

Source: October Issue 2019

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