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How To Raise An 'Unselfie' Generation: Teach Your Kid This Ability
  • A lot of people still confuse “empathy” with “sympathy,” but they are not the same. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, while empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.

    Helen Reiss, a psychiatrist researcher and the author of The Empathy Effect, says empathy involves recognizing our emotions, perceive the feelings of others, and care about their welfare. “Once empathy is activated, the most logical response is to have compassionate action.”

    Michele Borba, Ed.D, the author of the book UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All-About-Me World builds an insightful and excellent case on empathy. Parents who are concerned about self-absorption and bullying among young people today will find her advice on raising “unselfies” helpful.

    To activate empathy, children need to learn the following skills:

    • Identify emotions
    • Understand emotions
    • Express emotions
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    In her book, Borba talked about Mary Gordon, who created “Roots of Empathy” classes in 1996. Gordon would have a mom and a baby visit a classroom of kids. The children in the class would use the baby’s face, body, language, and vocalizations to learn to read and understand emotions. Gordon realized that children must experience empathy to acquire it. More than 800,000 children in 10 countries have gone through Gordon’s program and have worked with a baby to understand feelings.

    The ability to identify emotion in yourself and others (also known as emotional intelligence) is best described to young children as “tuning in to feelings.” It is an ability that can be taught, starting when children are as young as toddlers and even earlier when parents relate and respond to infants. 


    Emotional intelligence is essential to unlocking empathy. It is what motivates a child to care, and it has been proven time and time again as crucial in a child’s future success. Scientists have revealed that kids who can read and understand feelings from non-verbal cues are better adjusted emotionally, more outgoing, and more sensitive.

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    How to help your kids develop empathy

    Face-to-face interaction is the best way to learn emotions and develop human contact skills. (It is also another reason to curb phone or gadget use for everyone, parent or baby.) Borba has pointed out that parents can help their children practice the habit of empathy in three ways: 


    Self regulation means having skills like self-awareness, self-management, emotional literacy, and problem-solving. Think of it as self-control.

    Ivy Marquez, a Filipino author of the character guide “My Character Is Showing,” describes self-control as “our ability to keep our words, actions, and emotions under control instead of engaging people through our knee-jerk actions.” She says, “Several studies indicate that children who can exhibit self-control in preschool experience more success in school and are likely to engage in risky behaviors as adolescents. They can form and maintain meaningful relationships with peers.”

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    As a mother of three children who are now adults and successful in their chosen careers, Marquez created a checklist to monitor her children’s habits and behaviors when she homeschooled them from kindergarten to high school. This checklist was to help her teach the kids how to develop the practice of self-control.

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    • Able to identify strong emotions
    • Uses strategies to calm himself down
    • Knows how to wait for his turn
    • Knows how to be patient for things
    • Thinks before he speaks
    • Able to curb appetite
    • Able to limit gadget time

    Marquez identified a child’s strengths and weaknesses or target areas that need work for four weeks. Then she would give feedback and reinforce the learning.

    Practice kindness

    You want to raise kids who exercise compassion. Borba shares her tips to help kids adopt the habit of kindness:

    • Walk your talk. Kids learn best through your example, so be intentional about modeling kindness.
    • Surround your child with suitable examples. They could also learn from a coach, a teacher, a relative, and even other parents, apart from you.
    • Show the impact. Describe the effect of your child’s kindness on those they helped, point it out to them.
    • Pose the questions. “What did the person do when you were kind? How do you think he felt?”
    • Do a weekly family kindness ritual. Write holiday notes, attach them to treats or candy, and leave them secretly for others.
    • Use words and not rewards to praise a child’s gesture of kindness. When you notice your child being kind, let him, or she know how it pleased you.
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    You want to raise a child who is thinking “us,” not “them. Engage your child in cooperative games. Have family projects that you can work on together. Expose your children to more diversity. Help them understand racism and injustice happening in the world. Have playgroups. Praise your child’s camaraderie and not just when they “win” in activities.


    Marquez says, “Kind people are empathetic. They help people when they are in need without expecting anything in return. Even when very young, children can tell when someone needs help and the desire to help that person.”

    Empathy allows children to understand and process the experience of walking in another person’s shoes and understand the pain of another. This is strengthened by the practice and make our kids not only more caring but happier. Empathy can allow children to become changemakers — future adults who can make a difference in a self-absorbed world.

    Adversity quotient or A.Q., not IQ, is more crucial to a child's success according to experts. Read all about it here.

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