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.


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.

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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