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.


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.


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

About the Author

Michele Borba, Ed.D. is the author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World, and is an internationally renowned educational psychologist and a recognized expert in parenting, bullying, youth violence, and character development and author of 23 books including her new release, THRIVERS: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. She is a regular NBC contributor who appears regularly on TODAY and has been featured as an expert on Dateline, The View, Dr Phil, NBC Nightly News, Fox & Friends, Dr. Oz, and The Early Show. She lives in Palm Springs, CA with her husband, and is the mother of three grown sons. Dr. Borba is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


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