Posted by: Deborah Drezon Carroll | April 6, 2010

Can your kids care too much?

I just read an article about the joy of empathy and how important it is to teach it to our children. When we see someone smiling, the article says, we should point out to our children how seeing others smile makes them feel good.We should work hard to show our children that giving joy and receiving joy go hand in hand.We should instill in our children the ability to nurture and connect with people.

I wholeheartedly agree, but also wonder can this be overdone? I know I raised all three girls to care about others and from what I can see, even in their choice of career, (they all teach), they do care… deeply.

Case in point… Alexis recently went shopping for a new home. A couple of times, I went along at her request. (Side note: Please don’t think I’m that much of an over-functioning mother. I swear she asked me to keep her company on her search.) At one house, the owner was home while we were there and we had a chance to speak with her. That was where it went bad. The couple who owned the home were getting a divorce and the woman was understandably upset. She loved her home and didn’t want to move but she couldn’t afford to keep the house.

When we left, Alexis said that she didn’t think she liked the house that much. “Really?” I asked. I was surprised because I thought the house was quite nice and charming. Alexis said that the woman’s story was so sad she didn’t think she could, in good conscience, buy her home and take it from her. I pointed out that Alexis would actually be helping the woman because she needed to sell it. That made no difference. Alexis felt the woman’s pain and could not let it go. I knew there was no point in continuing. Lex was never going to move into that house.

Tamra and Shira are a bit like that, too. Okay, they’d probably buy that woman’s house (which is not to say they’re hard-hearted. Let’s just say they’re more pragmatic.), but they both feel deeply about the kids they teach. Tamra cried for some time when one of her students experienced a tragedy. Shira read a book about Columbine and is now obsessed with school shootings and can’t stop talking about the event, almost as if it happened yesterday.

Can it be too much? If you raise your kids to feel empathy, will they get hurt too easily?

Alexis Writes:

It’s been said that sometimes your gift is also your curse and I think that is true. I know I am too sensitive and often take on the pain of others. However my sensitivity allows me to be exceedingly good at my job. If I wasn’t so sensitive, I wouldn’t be able to connect with children the way that I do. I speak to kids the way I want to be spoken to and I make myself available to them. In this way we don’t just have a “teaching” relationship, we become a family. With the exception of my first class (I had no idea what to do), my students leave knowing that I care about them. This allows them to be comfortable, take risks, and to question things. That is what education is truly about.

So yes, I cry at every chick flick and even some commercials (that Olympic one with Dan Jansen and his daughter gets me every time) but I wouldn’t give up my gift just because at times it acts as a curse. It makes me who I am and good at what I do. I know there are some who see this as a weakness, but if you can’t feel things for other people I think you might be missing part of the journey.

Tamra Writes:

I’d like to meet any person who thinks that being empathetic is a negative trait. That’s just ridiculous. Of course you might get hurt if you are empathetic, but you can’t protect yourself from getting hurt any way, even if you don’t feel empathy for other people.

Also, I resent that you said that Shira and I would buy the house. I feel that I’m taking a lot of slams in this blog.

Shira Writes:

“Obsessed with school shootings” makes me sound crazy. The book was just really good.

I agree that people are going to get hurt whether they are empathetic or not. When I taught in the inner city, I know my students were more controlled in my class than the others, not because I had such wonderful classroom management skills, but because they knew I was there because I really cared about them. I was one of the only adults in their lives that treated them with respect (and most days, that was not easy to do). It was rough on me; I took a lot of their problems to heart, but I do think it made me a better teacher, and maybe a better person.

And no, I am not obsessed with school shootings.



  1. “We should work hard to show our children that giving joy and receiving joy go hand in hand.We should instill in our children the ability to nurture and connect with people” – that statement matches my middle daughter Jill. We did show our children that giving is good and rewarding. They all did community service type things with our family from day one. We always invited people without family to our house for holidays.

    Jill takes everything to heart and wants to take care of everyone – regardless of expense (usually mine!) When in college I kept hearing about the “dinner parties” she held for friends who lived in the dorm and liked coming to her apt. because it felt like home. Who paid her grocery bill? Mom.

    Now that she’s in grad school she doesn’t tell me as often but I still hear about dinners and believe me – she’s a starving grad student and doesn’t have the $$ to be treating friends. But that doesn’t stop her. She’ll donate to charities but eats toast and eggs all week to be able to pay her bills.

    I’m glad I instilled the giving in my kids – just hope they can eventually get jobs to support their humanity efforts!

  2. What a lovely child! I know just what you mean. All three of ours donated money this year to Haiti relief, in amounts that we’re sure they can’t afford. Not complaining, mind you, but I think they’re better people than I am! Thanks for reading and taking the time to chat.

  3. Wasn’t it Bill Clinton who said “I feel your pain?” If it’s good for the president, then why not teach our kids the same empathy? Can you feel too much? I think our kids live in such a disconnected world with texting, emails, online chats, that teaching them to “feel” for the other guy is such a blessing.

    Congratulations on raising such diverse, empathetic women. I am a teacher and have always felt that most of the job entailed “feeling” with the kids and adjusting to the moment. Freedom Writers is a case in point. Teachers give in many ways, our children benefit most from the teachers they connect to in life and lessons.

    Whether we obsess about our children’s safety or whether they are watching out for others and denying themselves, parents want their children to be grateful givers. Bravo to your daughters for living a life filled with love and empathy, following their hearts. Sometimes that is the best life of all.

    I’m glad you raise such fascinating questions. Your daughters add so much to my life.

    • We are so appreciative of your comment. We are thrilled that you enjoy this blgo and find it thought provoking. Also, it’s obvious that you “get” what good teachers are about. We’re all Freedom Writers fans, too. I also love the term “grateful givers.” I haven’t heard that before. Thanks for taking the time to share what you’re thinking.

  4. I really enjoyed this post. I think it speaks to the price that we pay as parents when we teach our kids correctly. It doesn’t always feel good… but it sure is worth it! Your girls sound wonderful.

  5. We do pay a price but I agree that it’s usually worth it. It’s so hard to know when we’re doing it right, though. Sometimes what looks right in the short run turns bad in the long run and vice versa. Tough job, this parenting!

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