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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.

Meet the New Sesame Street Resident Who Has Autism

There’s a new resident Muppet on Sesame Street. Her name is Julia and she has autism. Julia exhibits some of the many symptoms of autism; she doesn’t always respond to the other characters, she repeats words, she gets overwhelmed with sensory input and sometimes she flaps her hands. Elmo and the other Muppets find ways to play with Julia, even incorporating her behaviors into their games. The show hopes that the new character will help teach acceptance and understanding about autism and eventually will no longer be “Julia the character with autism” but simply Julia.

Kids who have never interacted with a child with autism might react negatively if they see someone on the playground or at school exhibiting any of Julia’s behaviors, but the show hopes that the new character will expose kids to these actions and also model acceptance of people with differences. Just as Sesame Street aimed to bring preschool into the homes of children who might not have access to it, now the show will bring exposure to autism into the homes of families who might not have someone on the spectrum in their family. Parents can talk about the show with their kids, pointing out the ways Julia is like the other Muppets as well as the ways she is different.

Here are some discussion ideas:

  • If you see someone holding their ears because there is a loud sound, how can you help them feel more comfortable? Could you offer them a set of headphones, or ask others around you to whisper? Do you think they will hold their ears forever, or if you wait a while do you think they will stop?
  • Julia really likes her toy. What’s your favorite toy? Do you ever bring it anywhere with you?
  • Julia really likes to draw, and she is a very talented artist. What do you like to do?
  • If you see someone flapping their hands, what would you do? Does it hurt you if they flap their hands? Of course not, so why do you care if they do it? Maybe it’s fun! Maybe it means they are happy or excited. How do you move your body when you are happy? Excited?

Julia’s puppeteer is the mother of a child with autism. Stacey Gordon hopes the character will help kids with autism avoid some of the exclusion and discomfort her child and his classmates experienced growing up.

Julia has appeared in Sesame Workshop’s online stories and resources but now she is a fully realized Muppet on the PBS and HBO show.. The crew uses a separate set of arms for the scenes when Julia will be flapping her hands. Julia’s episode will debut on April 10, 2017.

You can read NPR’s coverage of the new Muppet here or watch Lesley Stahl’s 60 Minutes segment here.

Want to Deprogram A Materialistic Kid? Here are 8 Proven Ways

Am I Spoiling ThemOkay. You admit you have a materialistic little critter on your hands. Take comfort. There are proven ways to deprogram a materialistic kid. It will take time and commitment, but the benefits are profound for your child and your family. Kids who are less materialistic are more “we” oriented, than “me.” They are more concerned about others, and less worried about how they look and what they own. Their self-esteem is more authentic. But perhaps most important, research clearly shows that these children are more empathetic, caring, collaborate, compassionate and morally courageous.

Here are a few of the best parenting solutions from my latest book, UnSelfie to help you succeed:

1. Watch those TV commercials!

Research shows that the fewer commercials kids see, the less materialistic they become. When kids’ TV viewing was cut by one-third; they were 70 percent less likely than their peers to ask parents for a toy the next week.

Solution: Hit the mute button on your television remote and talk whenever those commercials are on. Turn your child toward more commercial-free television shows or even TVO his “have-to-see” favorite so he can cut out the commercials all together.

2. Spend more time than money on your kids

Materialistic kids go on far more shopping outings with their parents. So be honest: How many outings stress non-material values?

Make a conscious effort to spend time together doing things that don’t cost a dime: Go to the park and the museum, talk, take bike rides, build forts, bake cookies, watch the clouds, and play Monopoly. Show your kid the “other” side of life.

3. Rotate “stuff”

Instead of letting your child view his stockpile of matchbox cars, action figures, CDs or whatever, store some away in a closet for a week or month.

Your new rule is when stowed, items are returned, while new ones are stored in their place.

The simple solution of rotating stuff makes bedroom cleanups easier, and helps kids learn they don’t need so much to have a good time. Best yet, the returned items are more appreciated and treated like new.

My girlfriend was master at this. She figured out quite early that her kids didn’t need all those toys and so she would simply “store” items her kids didn’t play with as often in a closet. Then a month later she’d rotate the toys – taking out the stored items and putting away toys that weren’t so popular for a later day. Most amazing – her kids were elated to find the “new” toys!

Try it!

4. Curb those $$$$$ rewards

I’ll do it if you’ll buy me those jeans.”    “How much will you give me?”  “But I wanted the X-Box!”

If you’ve heard those words from your kid chances are he’s been reward with monetary prizes and material possessions for behaving, working or just plain breathing. And materialistic kids keep upping the ante, they want more. From this moment on your new response is to just expect your child to do the job or behave without compensation.

Instead put away your wallet, and give praise, hugs and pats on the back whenever they are earned.

5. Stop hoarding

Materialistic kids tend to be pack rats and the more stuff the better. So take a Reality Check. Might your child be the next poster kid for the reality show, “Hoarders?” If so, it’s time for serious action.

To break your child’s hoarding habit provide three boxes labeled with one of these words: “Trash” (for ripped, torn, or broken items; “Memories,” (items with special meaning); and “Charity” (gently used toys, accessories or clothing that other kids may appreciate). Then encourage him to go through his drawers, closets, and shelves.

Explain that he should keep what he really needs, uses and wears, and put the rest into the specified box. Make sure that he helps you take the “Charity” box to an organization such as Goodwill or Red Cross to help him realize that not everyone is so fortunate.

6. Teach “Needs” vs. “Wants” 

Materialistic kids often want things “N.O.W.” and don’t stop to consider if the item is even necessary.

Solution: Whenever your kid pleads for some nonessential thing he just “must have” ask: “Is it something you really need or just want?”  Consistency is crucial…don’t back down!

Then outlaw nonessential, “have to have it” NOW spending.

7. Teach the habit of “giving” not “getting”

“Hands on” giving helps counter materialism more powerfully than almost anything else. So take your kids with you to bring dinner to a sick neighbor or to volunteer in a soup kitchen together.

Require your kids give part of a weekly allowance to needy kids. To stretch empathy, have your child shut his eyes and visualize the recipients’ reactions to the child’s gift.

Choose a cause as a family: adopting an orphan through Save the Children; befriending the lonely neighbor. Let your kid feel the power of giving.

8. Model restraint

Research shows that parents who are materialistic raise the most materialistic kids. You’re the best role model for helping your child cope with our complicated material world, so what kind of example are you setting for your kid?

Or just use the simplest parenting solution: the next time your kid says “I want….” say, “Honey, I want to boost your self-esteem and decrease your chance for depression, so NO!”

On this note, research is clear: money does not buy happiness. In fact, the wealthier are exactly less happier. Don’t think you’re doing your child any favor by buying to think it will create a more content critter. Instead, help your child learn constraint and to monitor “impulsiveness” by not spending ASAP. And focus your efforts on boosting your child’s “inside” qualities. Who she is on the inside, matters far more for self-esteem and happiness than the brand she wears.

For more solutions, signs of materialism, the latest research on how to curb it, or dozens more practical and proven parenting tips on 101 hot-button topics see The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries

Meanwhile, what are you doing to help raise a less materialistic kid in a materialistic world? If you have  ideas you’d like to pass on, please post your best tip! I’d love to hear from you.

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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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