Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World? The book UnSelfie by Dr. Michele Borba offers a 9-step program to help parents cultivate empathy in children, from birth to young adulthood—and explains why developing a healthy sense of empathy is a key predictor of which kids will thrive and succeed in the future. Radka Dohnalová, ATAIRU Founder and Managing Partner reviewed this book in context of topics Future of Education and Leadership.
Children today live in a self-absorbed culture that makes them ill-equipped to understand the emotions of others. When researching the key skills we will need for the future, empathy plays a critical role, not just for children but also in leadership. I loved this book because it shows how parents and teachers can help children learn to feel greater empathy by teaching them about emotions and showing them how their actions affect others. It can be also a great spurce of inspiration for leadership. Here are some of the key thoughts.
Evidence shows that empathy is decreasing among young people, while narcissism is on the rise.
Did you know that “selfie” was voted word of the year in 2014 by Oxford Dictionaries? The decision was made following a 17,000 percent increase in the word’s usage over the previous year.
This obsession with photos of ourselves is symptomatic of an all-about-me society that’s ruled by ego, in which everybody wants to be the center of attention. Psychologists are even in agreement that empathy is on the decline, while narcissism among young adults is steadily rising.
Just take psychologist Sarah Konrath, whose University of Michigan, Ann Arbor team considered 72 behavioral studies among college students over the last three decades. Their results, which were published in Personality and Sociology Review, paint a disturbing picture.
They found that students today are 40 percent less empathetic than their predecessors were 30 years ago. In addition, rates of narcissistic behavior, including selfishness, an inflated sense of self-importance and a tremendous need for admiration, have soared by a whopping 58 percent!
Or consider a Gallup poll that found that while only 12 percent of teenagers in the 1950s agreed with the statement “I am very important,” that figure has hovered around 80 percent since the late 1980s.
The drop in empathy is also made abundantly clear by the rise in bullying among school children. After all, children who bully others do so by dehumanizing their victims and failing to see life from their perspective, which is why soaring rates of bullying are a strong indicator of decreasing empathy.
And although children have always been mean to one another, recent studies have found that bullying has reached an all-time high in recent years. One study showed a 52-percent increase over a mere four years. Another study determined that children as young as three years old were engaging in bullying behavior.
But what’s perhaps most disturbing is that one out of every five middle schoolers reports considering suicide because of peer cruelty.
We can thus see that children today are much more self-absorbed than previous generations were at the same age – but that doesn’t mean that they have to stay this way.
Adults can help kids develop emotional literacy.
Just as they’re not born being able to change their own diapers, kids don’t come out of the womb knowing how to understand and act with empathy. Even especially bright kids need years of experience before they can read body language and facial cues with fluency.
That being said, you can coach your children through this process.
First, you can use face-to-face contact to teach kids to read emotional signals. This is crucial, since children and teens are especially prone to misreading such gestures, which causes them – and, potentially, those around them – lots of unnecessary suffering. To lend them a hand, pay special attention to your own body language and be ready to explain things like, “don’t worry, I’m not angry. I’m just tired. If I rub my eyes you’ll know I’m tired.” You can also do some casual people watching with your child. During a trip to the mall, you might ask, “who looks angry, tired or bored?”
Second, you can use books and films to teach kids about emotions. To do so, you might watch a few minutes of a TV soap opera together with the sound on mute and make a game of guessing how the actors feel. This kind of exercise is a useful way to teach children about body language. Books are also great for this. If the main character in a story expresses an emotion, ask your children, “how can we tell he’s scared?” or “have you ever felt like that?” Doing so will give your kids an opportunity to understand an emotion from the inside out. And finally, give your kids an emotional vocabulary. After all, you can’t talk about something without the appropriate language to express it, and that’s especially the case when it comes to emotions. So, expose your children to words like “eager,” “confident” or “dismayed” that go beyond the simple emotions of “happy” and “sad.” To make sure you’re using emotional words when speaking with your children, you can make a point of talking about your own feelings. Be especially sure to use lots of emotional words when playing with boys, as they tend to hear less of this language in their daily lives.
source: Twitter @micheleborba
Teach kids empathy by asking them to walk in another person’s shoes.
What do you need to do to make sure your child thrives? Well, it’s essential for her to be able to advocate for her own interests – but that’s not enough.
To be happy and successful, kids also need empathy. In fact, children who understand the perspectives of others have more friends and stronger, closer relationships than self-absorbed children. Not only that, but empathetic children are happier, better adjusted and more likely to resolve conflicts or stand up for victims.
Such positive traits are known as the Empathy Advantage and they’re linked to more favorable life outcomes, including better job prospects, higher salaries and even greater educational attainment.
Luckily, any child can develop the Empathy Advantage through a few careful exercises, and the first of these is to reverse sides in an argument.
Say your two children come running to you, each begging for you to take their side in a disagreement. Instead of doing so, ask each child what he or she thinks the other child will say about the situation. By grappling with this question, both children will learn to see the situation through the other child’s eyes.
Another way you can develop your children’s empathy is through the use of props and role play. This kind of strategy will help your child step outside of her own world and into that of another. For instance, you can put on a tiara, an army boot or a sari, then ask your child who they think the wearer of these objects is and what they think about life. What are that person’s fears, hopes and dreams?
This is also a good approach if your child bullies someone. While young children might not understand questions like “how would you like it if Bobby did that to you?”, props can help them empathize. So, if you instead say “here’s Bobby’s hat. You be Bobby and I’ll be you,” and then act out a scene in which you’re mean to Bobby, most children will come away from the experience understanding how painful it is to be bullied.