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 un-layer your psychological prejudices and projections, and find that this awareness allows you to 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.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.