I recently became a mother to a beautiful boy. When I look at him, I have so many hopes for his future, but above all, I want him to be a happy, kind, responsible person who cares about the world. I want him to feel inspired by our endless variety and possibilities. How do I prepare him to be that individual? How do I teach him to be courageous in standing up for himself and, equally as important, show commitment in standing up for others?
Michele Borba, the author of UnSelfie, writes that empathy is essential to our children’s current and future success, happiness and well-being. She elaborates on how the self-absorbed craze, which she calls ‘the Selfie Syndrome’ is concerningly decreasing our children’s empathy by focusing too much on their own self-promotion and self-interest. She shares research that shows that children and teens today have significantly lower empathy, increased peer cruelty (i.e., bullying and aggression), and an increase in mental health disorders.
On a more optimistic note, her evaluation of the current research indicates several positive outcomes for children who have the ability to empathize. These include feelings of contentment, relationship satisfaction, physical well-being, ability to bounce back from setbacks, improved critical thinking skills, and increased moral courage. Borba also talks about how empathy can decrease bullying, aggression, and racism.
So how do we make sure our children and students are empathetic so that they can have the “empathy advantage”? Borba coined this term to mean giving our children and students the “edge they need to live meaningful, productive, and happy lives and thrive in this complex world” (2016). How do we move our children from “I, Me, My, Mine” to “We, Us, Our, Ours”?
According to Borba (2016), nine essential habits can help our children and students navigate the “emotional minefields and ethical challenges” that they encounter in their lives. The nine essential habits are teachable and based on the latest research in child development, neuroscience and social psychology. The nine habits are: 1) Emotional Literacy; 2) Moral Identity; 3) Perspective Taking; 4) Moral Imagination; 5) Self-Regulation; 6) Practicing Kindness; 7) Collaboration; 8) Moral Courage and; 9) Altruistic Leadership Abilities.
I encourage you to consider reading the book UnSelfie: Why empathetic kids succeed in our all-about-me world by Michele Borba. The author provides a blueprint for all ages on how to cultivate empathy by incorporating the nine essential habits into their lives. This book has certainly given me some valuable suggestions on how I can be more intentional in raising an empathetic child.