What's Happening in Character?

What Do Kids Really Need to Be Happy and Successful? Empathy.

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Sat, Jul 16, 2016 @ 20:07 PM


Becky.pngDr. Michele Borba writes in her new book Unselfie, “While we may be producing a smart, self-assured generation of young people, today’s kids are also the most self-centered, saddest and stressed on record.”

According to a University of Michigan Study,

  • Teens today are now 40% lower in empathy levels than 3 decades ago.
  • In the same period narcissism has increased by 58%

And multiple studies have shown there has been a clear increase in peer cruelty.

We need to counteract those trends by teaching empathy. Sometimes considered a “soft” skill, new research featured in Dr. Borba’s book shows that empathy plays a surprising role in predicting kids’ happiness and success. And it’s not an inborn trait, but a quality that must be taught.


Dr. Borba provides evidence that empathy “promotes kindness, prosocial behaviors, moral courage, and it is an effective antidote to bullying, prejudice, and racism.” Plus, she shows it is a positive predictor of children’s reading and math test score. She calls it “The Empathy Advantage.”

Nine Essential Habits of Empathy

What can teachers do? They can teach students the nine essential habits Dr. Borba has outlined in Unselfie to help students develop their empathic urges and to inspire them to help others.

The first four habits are to develop empathy.

  • Teach emotional literacy so children can recognize and understand the feelings and needs of others.
  • Teach moral identity, so they will adopt caring values to guide integrity and activate the desire to help others.
  • Develop perspective taking so children know how to step into others’ shoes to understand their personal feelings, thoughts, and views.
  • Foster moral imagination by using literature, films and emotionally charged images as a source of inspiration to “feel with others.”

The next three are to practice empathy.

  • Develop self-regulation skills to children learn to manage strong emotions and reduce stress so that they can help others.
  • Practice kindness to increase children’s concerns about the welfare of others.
  • Practice collaboration. Working with others to achieve shared goals helps benefit all.

The last two help children live empathetically.

  • Teach moral courage to embolden children to speak out, step in and help others.
  • Showcase and practice compassionate leadership to motivate kids to make a difference for others no matter how small it might be.

Throughout Dr. Borba’s book, she provides a variety of strategies and examples to develop each of these nine habits, and she categorizes them by developmental level. It is a fabulous resource.

Other Great Resources

At Character.org, we want every classroom to be a caring and kind one, and  we want to re-energize you in your pursuit to help every child develop empathy and consideration for others. Here are some additional resources for creating a caring classroom environment.

Videos

Lesson Plans

  • Check out Ashoka’s toolkit for promoting empathy. It outlines the best practices they developed from interviews with practitioners and leading social entrepreneurs.
  • Need a lesson plan or project ideas for promoting kindness? The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has you covered. Providing a wealth of resources for grades K-12 be sure to take a look at all they have to offer.
  • Character.org also has lesson plans that promote kindness from our Schools of Character:
  • Consider having your students write Kindness Acrostics like at Apollo Beach Elementary
  • Send letters to learn about Kindness Around the World as Salt Brook Elementary did.
  • Follow Oakhurst Elementary’s example and make a Kindness Quilt to display your class’s acts of kindness and practicing empathy.

Recommended Readings


Looking for other resources? Consider becoming a member of Character.org. Members recieve practical tips and timely toolkits.

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Topics: empathy