Empathy in parents and children: Links to preschoolers' attachment and aggression
Stern, Jessica A.
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Though theory suggests that parents’ empathy is important for children’s empathic development, the transmission of empathy from parent to child remains poorly understood. The goals of this investigation were to test an intergenerational model of empathy with child attachment as a potential mediating mechanism and to replicate findings linking child empathy to reduced risk for aggression. Eighty-nine preschoolers and their mothers completed measures of parent empathy, as well as child attachment, empathy, and aggression. Parent empathy predicted child empathy, but associations varied by the measure of empathy employed. Attachment did not mediate the association between parent and child empathy, although secure attachment predicted greater child empathy. Child empathy predicted aggression, but the direction of the effect varied by the measure of child empathy and by child sex. Findings shed light on the intergenerational transmission of empathy and highlight the importance of multi-method assessment in the study of empathy.