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2017 Parent Empathy Pledge: Focus on the “Other” Report Card

Now that the fall semester is underway, it won’t be long until your child’s progress report arrives, revealing not only their academic proficiency, but their conduct report as well. Studies confirms that children today are more self-centered than ever—and it’s a big problem. It’s why I urge parents to recognize the importance of raising empathic kids, challenge them to teach their children about caring and kindness today, and then take The Empathy Parent Pledge which follows.

An Empathy Pledge for Worried Parents         

Do your kids really care about others? All parents want to be able to give a resounding yes without hesitation. Yet, if we’re honest, too many of us have to stop and think about it—and when we do, we often reach a troubling conclusion.

America is raising a generation of kids who can’t see past their smartphones and jam-packed schedules of “enriching” activities to notice the human beings in front of them who need kindness and friendship. (Real friendship, not the Instagram version.) In fact, studies show that today’s teens are 40 percent less empathetic than those of 30 years ago. Could it be that we’ve focused too much on grades and grit and neglected the other side of the report card—our kids’ ability to connect and get along with others?

To recognize this empathy deficit in young people in general is one thing. To see it in your own child is quite another.

If you’re deeply troubled by the realization that your kids don’t seem to care, you’re not alone. Over and over, researchers are finding that empathy is THE cornerstone for becoming a happy, well-adjusted, successful adult. Studies show without a doubt that possessing empathy makes you more likable, more employable, a better leader, more conscience-driven…and it even increases your life span.

Even parents who haven’t read the research instinctively realize that kids need the capacity to care. They’re living the problem. They know exactly how bad it feels. They deplore the endless duck-face selfies, the disrespectful remarks, the materialism, the unwillingness to help with chores, the elbowing-to-the-front competitiveness. And yet despite their best efforts, they simply can’t move the needle on their children’s behavior.

No parent wants to raise an uncaring child. Yet we feel helpless not to because we don’t raise our kids in a vacuum. There are very real forces out there crushing the empathy out of our kids: social media, the bad influence of kids whose parents don’t hold them accountable, our own tendency to helicopter parent. But there are some things we CAN control—and how we reward and recognize success in our kids is a great place to start.

That’s why I’m urging you to take the empathy pledge: This year I will pay more attention to the OTHER side of the report card.”

I’m referring here to your child’s literal conduct grade, yes, but not just that. I’m talking about whether your child is a bully or stands up for others, whether he snickers at mean-spirited jokes or denounces them, whether she works together with peers or undermines them, whether she shares what she has freely or hoards it.

Yes, academics are still the metric by which the world judges success. I get that and I’m sure you do, too. But this lopsidedness is beginning to change. In fact, some schools, including Harvard, are reshaping their admissions processes to reduce some of the academic pressure and encourage service, caring, and reflection.

I am hopeful that such moves to encourage empathy will multiply. We need to fan the sparks we’re seeing until they catch fire and spread. We need a national conversation about moving our focus to the other side of the report card. Like all conversations, it starts at home…and I can’t think of a better time to start than right now. There has never been a time when our children need to learn empathy.

A few tips to keep in mind as you take The Empathy Parent Pledge

Stop over-emphasizing straight A’s.

Your kids know when you value academic success over all else. When you harp on grades and test scores and rarely mention sharing, caring, and kindness, they get the message. (There’s a Harvard study that backs me up!) When your child walks in the door, what’s your first question? If it’s: “What grade did you get?” it may be time to ask: “What caring thing did you do?”

…And start talking up empathy.

Model caring behavior for your child (of course) but also talk about it. Explain what empathy is, what it looks like in action, and what she can do or say to express it. And tell her in no uncertain terms that you will be watching how she behaves toward siblings, friends, teachers, parents, and even strangers.

Don’t just listen to what they say; watch what they do.

Your child likely has two personas: the one he shows to friends and on social media and the one he shows to you and/or his teachers. Sure, he’ll tell you that he’s being kind and inclusive, but don’t take his word for it. Observe him when he isn’t aware. Listen to how other people describe your child. Help him develop a Caring Mindset so he does the caring thing without your reminders or presence.

Put kids in situations where they can practice empathy.

Empathy is a skill set, one that can be taught and nurtured at any age. Get kids involved in a service organization or just spend time baking cookies and, together, deliver them to an elderly neighbor. Make empathy-building a regular part of their life. You want to hardwire it.

When you see those traits like caring, kindness, and thoughtfulness…acknowledge it.

Don’t give your child money or “stuff” in exchange for showing empathy. (Talk about sending the wrong message!) Do praise her, hug her, or maybe even take her out for an ice cream date and tell her how proud you are to be the mom of such a caring child.

But don’t give your child money or “stuff” in exchange for showing empathy. It actually decreases altruism!)

Start putting pressure on schools to emphasize empathy.

It’s possible your child’s school no longer measures conduct at all—or at least it’s seldom mentioned in the classroom. If this is going to change, it’s up to you.

When parents band together, we have tremendous power. MADD, for instance, dramatically lowered drunk driving rates. When parents set out to bring up our nation’s math and science scores a couple decades ago, they came up. What we focus on gets done—so let’s focus on raising a generation of kind, caring, empathetic, successful kids. Here’s a pledge to help us all get started. Please pass it on!

The 2017 Parent Empathy Pledge

  • This year I will pay attention to the other side of the report card.
  • I’ll reward kindness. Caring. Sharing. Teamwork.
  • I’ll make it clear that while grades do matter, empathy matters too.
  • I’ll teach my child to encourage the classmate who struggles,
    • To cheer on the kid who missed the goal,
    • To pick the kid who never gets picked,
    • To make friends outside the “exclusive” group,
    • To sit with the kid who’s shy or awkward or different,
    • To comfort someone who is having a bad day,
    • To notice when kids are hurting and try their best to help,
  • And I, as a parent, pledge to raise an Unselfie who thinks “we,” not “me.”
  • I’ll set the right example for my child in all I do and say,
  • Because I can’t talk anyone into caring…I can only walk the path and hope they follow.

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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.

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.

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