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6 Reasons to Stop the “Every Kid Gets a Trophy” Epidemic

Just pretend:  The sports season just ended and you and the other parents are bursting with pride watching each child receive a participation trophy with their teammates. Of course, we hate to see our children disappointed, so when we notice every kid holding a golden statue, we utter a collective parent sigh: “Oh, good, they all feel special!” Phew!

But do our good intentions really help our kids? Not if we really want to nurture our children’s character and base our parenting on solid child-development research.

The “Every Kid Gets a Prize” is a staple of modern-day parenting. Even coaches and the sports industry are jumping on board. The local chapter of one national sports association spends roughly 12 percent of its yearly budget on trophies just to make sure that every kid feels special—even if it’s just for “showing up.”

But beware: our good-hearted trend may actually backfire and diminish-not nurture-our children’s self-esteem, character and resilience. Here are six reasons to stop the “Every kid gets a trophy” trend, and pronto.

Curtails Character Development

Our children develop crucial character traits like perseverance, dependability, and trustworthiness by rolling up their sleeves, practicing hard, and giving tasks their personal best. Awarding kids for putting on a uniform is honoring mediocrity-not excellence-and it robs them of the opportunity to strengthen their character. Character is what helps our children become good people and handle life.

Short-Changes Real-Life Preparation

Life is tough. Success is hard work. So truth be told: the real world doesn’t give out ribbons, medals, awards and trophies just for participating. Ask yourself: “If my child thinks that all she has to do is show up to earn the prize, what message does she learn?”

Let’s not allow our kids to believe that they can take the easy way out, cut corners, and rely on others to do the heavy hitting. Doing so won’t prepare them for the real world.

Robs “Authentic” Self-Esteem

In all fairness, a big reason many parents joined the “Trophy Bandwagon” is because they assumed that it would nurture their children’s self-esteem. But research tells a different story.

Authentic self-esteem is comprised of two parts: A Feeling of Worthiness (“I am a worthwhile person”) and A Feeling of Competence (“I am capable to handle life.”)

While that trophy may make a kid feel “special” in the moment, it doesn’t endure. Real self-esteem is gained from praise, pats on the back or trophies that are earned, and kids are quick to recognize they did nothing to warrant the award.

Curtails Resilience

Helping kids cope with adversity must be part of our parenting agendas. After all, life has bumps and our children must learning coping skills to ride them out.

Children become more tolerant to frustration when they are exposed to setbacks in small doses.That way when those bigger challenges come along they realize they can handle them.

Giving every kid a trophy as a means to cushion disappointment from not “being the best,” only reduces their chances to realize that they can bounce back and curtails their capacity for resilience.

Devalues Real Success

 I’ll never forget when my college-bound son handed me a box of his trophies culled from being on dozens of teams. “They don’t mean anything,” he explained, “everyone has same trophies.” He saved just one medal from a team History Day competition that was well-earned from hard work and passion.

If every kid gets the trophy, then their “real win” isn’t special and they fail to reap the joy that comes from realizing that their hard efforts actually paid off.

It’s natural for parents to want to help their kids feel good, but what we may be missing is helping them care about others and support their teammatesThe real world isn’t about “Me” but “We.” In today’s diverse, global world our children must learn to collaborate and support each other. And we must switch our kids’ from thinking, “I, me, mine,” to “we, us ours.” One way to do so is by encouraging them to recognize the strengths of others, and to congratulate their teammates for their talents. To prepare them for today’s world, we must help our kids think “WE,” not “ME.”

Let’s stop this craze of giving every kid a trophy just for showing up and breathing. The practice is not beneficial to children’s character development. Instead, tell your son or daughter that you are proud that they were a team player and that you loved going to those games or event.

Do snap that photo of your child, but make sure your son or daughter is in a group shot with all his or her teammates. Now there is the memory that both you and your child will want to preserve! And it’s also one of the best ways to raise a generation of kids who think “WE,” not “ME.”

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

Kids Watch & Copy Everything! 50 Ways to Be a Great Example

Of course we want our children to become good, responsible, respectful and successful human beings! But in our quest to “do it all” we may forget that some of the most powerful ways to help our children aren’t in the things we buy but in the simple things we say. Example is everything. In fact, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, years ago said that the best way to teach character is by modeling good example. (I swear kids come with video recorders planted inside their heads and we know it when they play us back at the most inopportune moments–usually when the relatives arrive).

The bottom line is the kids are watching us and they are copying us–the good, the bad, and the very ugly. Just in case you need any proof here are a few things our children pick up from watching the example we set:

Behavior. Prejudice. Stress management. How we cope with defeat. Organizational style.  Driving safety.  Drinking styles.  Eating habits. Friendship making.  Goal-setting.  Values.  Sleeping habits.  Television viewing.  Courtesy. Discourtesy. Punctuality.  Religion.  Love of reading.  Lifestyle choices.  Interests. Responsibility. Digital citizenship. If we bounce back.  Self-talk.  Pessimism. Optimism.  Money Management.  Procrastination.  Frugality.  Patriotism. Biases. Friendship keeping. Valuing education.  Conflict resolution.  …And the list goes on and on!

Here are just 50 things to say to boost our own example to our kids so we become the model we hope they copy. Our children need role models. Let them look to us!

1.   “Thank you! I really appreciate that!” (Courtesy)

2.   “Excuse me, I need to walk away and get myself back in control.” (Stress and anger management)

3.   “I’m going to call Grandma and see how she’s doing. She looked lonely.” (Empathy, compassion)

4.   “Mrs. Jones is sad. I’m baking her some cookies. Want to help?” (Charity)

5.   “I don’t want to watch this anymore. I don’t like how they are portraying…(women, men, kids, a race, a culture, a religion…). (Values and stereotyping)

6.   “Excuse me. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.” (Admitting mistakes. Manners)

7.   “That’s my two cents. I’d love to hear yours.” (Communication style)

8.   “I lost my temper there. I’m going to work on counting to 10 when I get so stressed.” (Anger management)

9.   “I blew it. Next time I’ll….” (Handling mistakes)

10.  “I’m going to set a goal for myself this year. I’m working on….” (Goal-setting)

11.  “I’m so upset with my friend-remind me not to send her an email until I cool off.” (Online behavior)

12.  “Please repeat that. I don’t understand.” (Conflict and communication style).

13.  “I’m so stressed lately…I’m going to (start walking, eat healthier, write in a journal, listen to soothing music, or whatever) to help me relax.” (Stress management, coping)

14.  “I want to listen. Let me turn off my cell phone.” (Digital citizenship)

1f61f07c5f716c8e91eae5a3d85c5e2bb5.  “I have so many things to do today. I’m going to make a list so I don’t forget anything.” (Organization)

16.  “That woman looks like she’s going to drop those packages. Let’s ask if she needs help.” (Kindness)

17.  “Apologies…that was my fault. Hope you forgive me.” (Forgiveness)

18.  “I’m driving and need to keep my eyes on the road. Please turn off my phone for me.” (Driving safety)

19.  “I love watching the Oscars, but let’s not focus on their dress designers but their talent. How do you think Sandra Bullock prepared for her role in space.” (Valuing quality over materialism)

20.  “She’s my friend and doesn’t want me to tell anyone. I’m honoring her request.” (Friendship. Loyalty)

21. “I’m getting upset and need to take a time out. Let’s talk in a few minutes.” (Anger management)

22. “Great question-I don’t that answer. But I’ll try to find it for you.” (Admitting shortcomings)

23. “They do look different than us, but they have the same feelings. Let’s think about how we’re the same.” (Prejudice)

24. “Didn’t she just move here? Let’s go introduce ourselves and ask her to sit with us.” (Courtesy. Kindness)

25. “If it’s not respectful I’m not sending it.” (Digital citizenship)

26. “But is that true for all elderly people? Aunt Harriet remembers everything and she’s 87. Let’s think of more examples.” (Stopping prejudice and bias)

27. “Every month I’m going to set a new goal. You’re going to help remind me to stick to it!” (Goal-setting)

28. “We hear so much about the “bad” stuff–let’s look through the paper and find the good things people are doing for each other. We could start ‘Good News’ reports.” (Optimism, attitude)

29. “I need to take care of myself and eat healthier.” (Self-care)

30. “I’m going to walk around the block. Want to come? It always helps me relax.” (Self-care)

31. “I taped ‘No’ on a card on the phone to remind me to not to take on so much. I’m prioritizing my family!” (Priorities)

32. “I’ve got to catch my words-I’m becoming too negative.” (Attitude. Optimism)

33. “Let’s set ‘unplugged times’ for our family. What about from 6 to 8 pm?” (Prioritizing family).

34. “I do like it, but I’m going to wait until it’s on sale.” (Frugality, delaying gratification).

Children-may-close-their-ears-to-advice-but-they-keep-their-eyes-open-to-an-example35. “I always try to save half of my paycheck.” (Money management)

36. “Those children lost everything in that fire. Let’s go through our closets and find gently used clothes and toys to bring them.” (Charity)

37. “I’d love to eat that now, but I’m going to wait until after dinner.” (Self-control)

38. “I know it sounds fun, but I need to finish my job. My motto is, “Work first, then play.” (Responsibility)

39. “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m driving so I can’t drink.” (Drinking behavior)

40. “My favorite thing to do is read! Let’s go to the library sale and find books to bring on our vacation.” (Instilling a love of reading).

41. “Let’s stay open-minded and give Daniel a turn. We didn’t hear his side.” (Non-judgmental)

42. “That’s not fair. We agreed on the rules so let stick to them.” (Fairness).

43. “I know we wanted to win, but we didn’t. They were better than us, so let’s go congratulate them.” (Sportsmanship)

44. “I need to go write a thank you to Peter before I forget. He put a lot of thought into that present and I want to make sure he knows how much I appreciate it.” (Gratitude)

45. “Thanks, but you don’t need to give me any money. I did it because I wanted to help.” (Charitableness)

46. “I’m going to stop talking about dress sizes and jumping on the scale, and start thinking about eating healthier instead.” (Self-image)

47. “I’ve got to get to the polls before they close. Voting is something I take very seriously.” (Citizenship)

48. “Let’s stop and think about how she feels. She looks sad-let’s get in her shoes for a minute.” (Empathy)

49. “I’m not just going to stand by when someone could get hurt. I’m asking if he wants help.” (Responsibility. No by standing!”)

50. “Everyone can make a difference. Let’s think of something we can do.” (Personal responsibility. Empowerment)

What can you say to a child today to be the example he or she can use for tomorrow? Beware, the children are copying!

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

Want Kinder Kids? 6 Simple Ways Kids Can Practice at School

Practicing kindness is what helps children tune into other people’s feelings and needs, trust more, step out of their own skins to understand others, and become UnSelfies (my term for kids who are “more we, less me” oriented). Each kind act nudges kids to notice others (“I see how you feel”), care (“I’m concerned about you”), empathize (“I feel with you”) and help and comfort (“Let me ease your pain”).

Helping students practice kindness also activates empathy and creates more caring schools. That’s why I consider “Practicing Kindness” as an essential habit of empathy.

Over the last years, I’ve observed countless classrooms around the world as I researched ways to nurture children’s empathy and reduce bullying. Here are a few favorite ways educators help students practice kindness and acquire empathy from my book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. The book includes over 300 practical ways based on the latest science, and none cost a dime, and are simple to implement.

1. “High Five” Hallways

logoA group of elementary Wisconsin teachers recognized that their hallways were always crowded and didn’t have that warm “feel tone.” But students had an idea to create a more caring climate: “Everybody can give ‘High Fives’ as they walk to class!” And that’s exactly what students now do (as well as teachers, the principal, and any guest). Not only is the school tone friendlier, but students are practicing social emotional skills like eye contact, giving encouragement and saying kind comments.

School hallways are usually congregated areas and notorious “hot spots” for bullying. But just by having students deliberately acknowledge one another in friendly, caring ways, bullying can be reduced and kindness can be the new norm. And everyone seems to be wearing bigger smiles.

2. Sidewalk Chalk Artists

Want a simple way to brighten up your school and spread kindness? Purchase large quantities of colored sidewalk chalk! Start by forming small student teams who will decide what kind messages they want to spread to others. (Ideas must chalk-lovebe approved by the teacher).

Then each team or class draws their kind, friendly messages on approved school-ground spots such as asphalt, sidewalks or playgrounds. It’s a colorful way to brighten your school grounds while kids practice kindness and collaboration.

And don’t overlook teens! I recently visited St. Francis High School in the Bay Area and noticed that their sidewalks were decorated with student-drawn inspirational kindness quotes.

3. Student Greeters

Clover Park School District in Washington recognized an untapped talent: students with strong social emotional skills who could serve as models to other students. And every school has friendly, kind kids whose skill set can be a powerful model for peers to copy. The staff identified these students and asked them to serve as student greeters. They wore red baseball caps so they were easily identified (other schools have made special vests). Greeters were stationed at the front door and welcomed entering students (“Hi!” “Glad you’re here!” “Have a good day.”) The staff reported a positive change in climate in just a short while. Students began to look forward to the greeting. And many arriving students began to return the same positive statements to the greeters.

4. Student Welcome Wagons

New kids can feel the pain of exclusion. So why not initiate a “Welcome Wagon Committee” of students to greet newcomers, give them a school tour, and pair them with “veteran” students. Photos of new arrivals can be featured on a faculty bulletin board to alert staff members of these students. Some schools with highly mobile populations arrange “get acquainted” sessions with new students where they learn about their school, connect with others, and practice kindness.

5. Cross-Age Buddies

This approach has been effective in boosting academic achievement and creating positive student connections. Student helpers are typically two to three grade levels ahead of the peers they tutor. Not only can they tutor students on academic tasks, but they can also teach the SEL skills to their younger buddy. And the experience can help build empathy, especially if the tutor assumes the role of a big brother or sister to a younger “buddy.” What’s more, the big buddy can begin to reframe his image and see himself as a caring person.

6. Learning Buddies

This idea was shared by a Vancouver teacher who assigned each student to be the learning buddy of another student in the classroom every week or month. Students pair up with their partners a few minutes a day. The strategy builds connections, enhances achievement and opens empathy. A few ideas:

  • Students quickly turn to their buddies and agree on the task directions before they work on the task alone.
  • Buddies discuss three main points from their homework assignment or from the task they just completed.
  • The buddy calls or emails an absent partner to say: “We miss you,” provides missed assignments, or makes a get-well card with class signatures.

Or students (teachers, principals, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, yard supervisors, counselors, nurses, psychologists) can just take a moment to welcome and encourage one another. It’s also wonderful way to nurture students’ empathy and practice kindness.

There are countless ways for students to practice kindness and increase their empathy capacities. But look for real, meaningful, face-to-face type experiences. Those are the kinds of opportunities our students need to develop caring mindsets and become caring, socially responsible, good people.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

5 Simple Ways to Create a Culture of Kindness in Your Family

Kindness is making a comeback and we’re psyched!

How we got away from the simple pleasures of a neighborly wave to passersby, a nod to the old man on the street and an invitation to sit with others at the school band concert, we’re not quite sure. Yet, we’re happy that national organizations including GenerationOn, HandsOn, and Be Kind People are hosting online and in school events to bring kindness back to families and classrooms everywhere. We’ve just created Bloom Your Room™, the first social-emotional literacy program delivered as an art collection to share kindness worldwide.

The newest research shows us we can bridge what our children are learning about character, stewardship and caring from school to home by Creating Cultures of Kindness. Before we get to the “How-To’s,” let’s explore the “Whys”.

  1. Let’s Recognize That Every Family Has a Culture

Being-a-good-parenting-teamWhile we often spend much time choosing our children’s schools, engaging them in play activities and helping them learn along the way, we often don’t think about the fact that underneath every interaction with our children is our family culture. Your family culture is the manner in which you live, your belief systems, your aspirations and your way of being.

Having worked with many families, I observe that when family life feels rough or rocky, instead of working to solve the specific problem right away (my child won’t listen to me, my child has tantrums, my child refuses to do his homework) it’s super helpful to converse about and reflect on the foundation of the family first.

Since the culture of your family lays the foundation for how everyone in the family is expected to “be” with one another, when we clarify for the children what kind of family they live in and how the family agrees to live with one another, there is a natural shift toward a sense of security, meaning, purpose and calm.

  1. Let’s Talk About The Kind of Family You Wish To Live In

Let’s step all the way back to what kind of family you want to live in and why this is important to you. First, a few questions to get your thoughts flowing:

  • Do you want to live in a happy home?
  • Do you want to live in a peaceful home?
  • Do you want to live in a home where family members feel loved?
  • Do you want to live in a home where family members feel respected?
  • Do you want to live in a family where each individual thrives as their authentic self?

Now let’s go a little deeper. Since so much of parenting involves just taking care of what’s happening today – getting everyone dressed and off to school, making sure the shoes are on the right feet and starting your own day – there’s seldom space in our lives to take a deep breath and think about the big picture…what we’re here for, where we’re going together. So I’m going to ask you some of those longer-range questions right now. They are meant to help focus your thoughts and reveal to you what’s most important to your unique family. You might be surprised at what you discover.

Here goes:

  • Strengthening-family-bondsWhy do you exist? (That’s a biggie. How do you envision your purpose as an individual and as a parent?)
  • What’s really important to you?
  • Twenty years from now, what are you hoping that your children will say about you?
  • What will your children learn about life from you?
  • Who do you hope your children will become?
  • What kind of parent will you become?

We just did something fabulous together, we brought “front of mind” that you have purpose, you have vision, you have values. You have goals for yourself, your children and your family as a whole.

  1. Let’s Learn About The Power of Cognitive Conversations

Let’s explore simple ways you can connect with your children and create a culture in which you will lift one another up with peace, love and harmony.

Now that you have a vision of who you are and where you wish to go as a family, you can begin to talk about your vision with your children. I call this, “Having the Cognitive Conversation”.

“Cognitive Conversations” are thoughtful exchanges that go deeper than what kids are generally used to.  We have found that when we have “Cognitive Conversations” with children we get them thinking about what kindness is and how to practice more of it. Cognitive Conversations help children feel empowered as they begin to notice kind acts in themselves and in others. It’s motivating for children to experience being kind as less of a “to-do” and more of an “I want to BE.”

Let your children know that the discussions you are having are very special. They are Cognitive Conversations which speak to our entire being, beginning with the brain.  Then tell the kids, they are going to partner with their brains by saying this:

“Hey, listen up, Mr. Brain.”

“I’m going to need your help here.”

“We’re about to talk about, what you need to do Mr. Brain, in order to move us toward becoming whole, compassionate thriving social beings.” 

Young girl thinking with glowing brain illustration“Together, Mr. Brain you and I are going to talk about being kind.”

“Therefore, Mr. Brain, I need you to rev up your attention engine and really BE HERE for this conversation. ‘Cause we’re going to have a meaningful exchange about what we plan to do to achieve a very specific goal.”

“In this case, our goal is to create a culture in which we all want to live. We’re calling it – A Family Culture of Kindness.”

Kids love this! They love that they are talking to their own brains and becoming cognitive scientists, rather than just being the object of another social lesson. The words are big, the concepts are big and therefore, the kids experience that what is happening here is not the same ole…

Now you are all set-up and ready to go.  You are prepared to talk with your children about what kindness is, what kindness looks like and what their plans are to live with more kindness in their daily lives.

  1. Let’s Get The Kids Talking.
  • Talk with the kids about what kindness is. Instead of telling them what it is, ask them.

“Hey kids, we often hear, ‘Let’s be kind, help me out here, what does that mean to you?”  Help them generate ideas, build on one another’s viewpoints and summarize what they say in words everyone understands.

  • Talk with the kids about what kindness “looks like”.

“We’ve heard that kindness actually ‘looks like’ something, if you imagine someone being kind, describe for us what that looks like in our family.”

“What does your brain actually see?”

  • Talk with the kids about what kindness “sounds like”.

“Hey kids, did you know that being kind actually sounds like something?”

“Let’s imagine for a moment what kindness “sounds like” in our family.”

“What do you hear when someone is being kind?”

“What do you hear when someone is being unkind?”

“What does your brain actually hear?”

  1. Let’s Turn the Cognitive Conversation into Action.

Have some fun as a family writing down what you all have said. Keep notes of your ideas. Scribble, draw, or paint, make it all visible.  Once you can see all your ideas, take the next step and ask, “So what do you kids think about all this?” “What do our ideas tell us about what we’d like to improve in our family to be more kind? kindness-canWhat things might we do for others? Who do you know who needs more kindness, what shall we do for them?

See you’ve got it!  You are on your way 

….A little conversation, a bit of science, some mindful thinking and Voila! Your Culture of Kindness is in development, ready to grow and change as you do.

Live it, be it and enjoy your newfound kindness.

4 Easy Ways to Raise Caring Kids

Teaching-kids-to-communicate.jpgI was flying on a five-hour flight to Orlando and heard a bizarre sound: silence! The plane was packed with kids, but none were talking and then I realized why: they were all plugged into a digital devices. I’m sure we’ve all seen the same scene in restaurants, shopping malls and sporting events. Common Sense Media reports that the average school-age child is now plugged-in about seven and a half hours a day. Thirty-nine percent of two to four year olds use a smartphone, MP3 or tablet! There’s no doubt that those gadgets are parent sanity savers and will expand our children’s cognitive abilities. But as an educational psychologist my concern is how all that plugged-in and limited face-to face time may reduce our children’s people skills and most especially empathy–the ability to feel with another.

The ability to empathize affects our kids’ future health, wealth, happiness and academic success. It also helps build healthier relationships, resilience, and motivates our kids to care. Empathy can be nurtured, but the best ways to do so are always face to face.  Here are four strategies from my new book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, that will help us raise caring kids who have the people skills to thrive and survive in today’s plugged-in world.

  1. Boost emotion literacy. A crucial people skill is the ability to read emotions. Emotional literacy is also crucial for developing empathy. After all, how can you care about or comfort them if you don’t realize how they feel? This first skill is simple to teach: just find natural ways to use feeling words with your kids. Start by naming the emotion you think your child feels: “You seem sad.” Or: “Do you feel happy?” Then help her read emotions by pointing out other people’s facial expressions, voice tone and body language: “Look at Daddy’s slumped shoulders. How do you think he feels?” Use books and films as well: “Look at Dumbo. How does he feel that everyone is teasing him about his ears?” Finally, activate her empathy to care: “If you think Sally is sad, how can you help?”
  2. Teach sharing. Without the ability to share and take turns, your child’s people skills and empathy quotient will be greatly jeopardized. But instead of telling your young child to share, show how. Get on the floor and gently roll a rubber ball back and forth between you. As you do, say: “My turn, now it’s your turn. Roll it back to Mommy.” Your child will begin to get the idea that sharing means taking turns with friends. For older kids, dust off those old game boards such as Monopoly, Clue, Chutes and Ladders, Checkers then graduate to playing catch, Frisbee, video games, and ultimately work projects in the home, yard, or community so he gets the idea that life is a “We” and not “Me” affair.
  3. Teach eye contact. Eye contact is how kids learn to read people’s emotions, so face your child and be at eye level when you communicate. Then teach one essential people skill: “Always look at the color of the talker’s eyes.” The simple rule helps kids use eye contact and pick up on other’s facial expressions, voice tone, and emotional cues. Holding eye staring contests to see how long family members can maintain eye contact without breaking their stare is a fun way to help kids feel more comfortable looking at one another.
  4. Teach good listening. A key skill that boosts empathy, people skills and school success is listening. Our digital natives often need to learn to focus on what others are saying. Just teach these four listening skills. The best way is by showing (not telling) the child what it looks and sounds like. Model each step with your child so he will copy your example. Practice each step until he can use it without your guidance, and then add the next step and the next. Younger children or those with shorter attention spans will need lots of gentle reminders. Teach at the pace that works best for your child. The acronym “SALE” helps older children recall each part).
  • S Sit or stand still so you pay attention to the speaker. It lets the person know you care about his thoughts and feelings and helps you be a good friend.
  • AAcknowledge the speaker. Let the person know you are listening by saying: “I see.” “Oh.” “I didn’t know that.” You can also nod and smile to show you care.
  • L Look and listen for how the speaker feels in his facial expressions, voice tone and body language. If you think you recognize the feeling, say it. “So you’re mad.” “You look happy.” Your friend will tell you if you’re right or not.
  • E Eye to eye. To help your child stay focused, look at the color of the talker’s eyes. After all, you can’t learn to listen unless you are tuning in.

The best moments to nurture empathy and teach people skills are usually not planned – they just happen. Capitalize on those moments to help your child understand the power that “feeling with others” can have.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

The Great Empathy Tune-Up II: 5 Strategies to Raise Caring Kids

Male High School Student Comforting Unhappy FriendThe ability to empathize affects our kids’ future health, wealth, and happiness. It helps them build healthier relationships, strong character, and bounce back. It’s also what motivates our children to care.

For the past decade I’ve studied children’s character development and empathy. I’ve flown the world to interview dozens of kids and top researchers about empathy. And I’m convinced our children now – more than ever – need empathy!  

The good news?  Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.

Here are five simple strategies from my new book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, that will help us raise compassionate, caring, courageous kids that thrive and survive in today’s new world.  But before you begin, if you haven’t already, take Part I’s EMPATHY QUIZ and answer the question –  HOW EMPATHETIC ARE YOUR KIDS?  Then you can use the five strategies below to either tune-up or maintain your child’s Empathy Quotient.

PART II: THE GREAT EMPATHY TUNE-UP

Five Strategies to Nurture Children’s Empathy Capabilities

  1. Talk feelings!  Without the ability to identify emotions kids are at a huge disadvantage. After all, how can they empathize if they can’t “read” how how another person feels? Today’s kids would rather text than talk and are plugged into digital devices around seven and a half minutes a day. So weave feeling words into conversations to teach emotional literacy. First, label the emotion you think your child feels: “You seem nervous.” Or: “Do you feel irritated?” Next, help read others’ emotions: “How do you think Sally feels?” Finally, activate her empathy to care: “If you think Sally is sad, what can you do to help?”
  1. Imagine how the person feels.  One way to help your child identify with the feelings of others is to have him imagine how the other person feels about a specific circumstance. Suppose your child just sent a thank-you card to his aunt for the birthday present he received. Use it as an opportunity to help your child recognize his aunt’s feelings when she receives the card by having him pretend to be the aunt. “Pretend you’re Aunt Jen right now. You open up your mailbox and find this card. How will you feel when you read what it says?” You later can expand the imagining technique to include individuals your child has not personally met: “Pretend you’re a new neighbor, and you’re moving into this town and don’t know anyone. How will you feel?” Asking often, “How would you feel?” helps children grasp the needs and feelings of other people.
  1. little girl surprise mom w breakfastMake caring a routine.  Kids don’t become kind on their own but need regular practice opportunities. Try my girlfriend’s ‘Two Kindness Rule.’ “I expect you to say or do at least two kind things every day,” she’d tell her daughters. The girls then reported their kind deeds later at dinner. And all that practice paid off: her daughters are now kind-hearted adults. Find simple ways to make kindness a routine part of your child’s life so she recognizes that caring is expected in your home and she sees herself as a caring person.
  1. Step into another’s shoes  Role-playing helps kids grasp other’s feelings. You can use the technique countless ways to help your child consider the impact of his uncaring actions. Here’s how to use it in discipline: Let’s stop and do this again, but this time think how Kevin feels not being invited to play. I’ll pretend to be you. ‘Kevin, you can’t play with us.’ Now you be Kevin and act how he feels and thinks being left out.” The more kids imagine another’s feelings and needs, the stronger their ability to empathize and care. So find ways to help your child imaginatively step into the shoes of another.
  1. Find ways for your child to do good.  Many children lack empathy because their experiences have never allowed them to think about perspectives other than their own. So provide opportunities for your child to experience different perspectives and views in your community, by visiting nursing homes, homeless shelters, centers for the blind, pediatric wards, soup kitchens, veteran’s hospitals, and political campaign headquarters. The more your child experiences different perspectives, the more likely she will be able to empathize with others whose needs and views differ from hers.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE TODAY at amazon.com.

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