In a world where people are increasingly self-absorbed, empathy is a skill that is often forgotten about. That alone makes it one of the most important things to learn. In an interview with The Cut, Michelle Borba, author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, gives insight into how we can teach our kids to be more empathetic.
Empathy, Borba explains, is just like tying your shoes, or maintaining personal hygiene – it’s a skill that can be learned and practiced as you grow older. “It’s not their temperament. Nobody is just born empathetic. It must be taught,” Borba says.
It’s a convincing argument, and a very valuable lesson for parents who want their kids to succeed and be good people. However, Bora says being empathetic has become devalued.
“Self-interest at the exclusion of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns,” Bora argues, is “permeating our culture and slowly eroding our children’s character,” making them into difficult adults later in life.
Listen to the parenting etiquette that is dividing Rebecca Sparrow’s friendship group.(Post continues after audio.)
So what can we do about it?
Borba says there are four fundamental habits that you should instill in your kids to teach them to be more empathetic.
- Emotional literacy: teaching children how to read the feelings and needs of others. One way to do this is telling them to take a deep breath, and describe their state of mind, helping them plug into their senses.
- Moral identity: helping them realize the values they associate with themselves and giving them a sense of integrity. This is as simple as telling a child when something is or isn’t okay. For example, if your child assists you with housework, tell them that is a very helpful thing to do.
- Perspective: allowing children to walk in others’ shoes. This means getting them out of their normal environment – show them how other people live, even if that just means going to a different neighborhood.
- Moral imagination: using art, such as books and movies, as sources of inspiration.
Borba suggests that “being kind even when no one is looking” is a family motto that we should all embrace. At the heart of it, it’s about dedicating more time to our kids. We’re all so busy all the time, and it’s easy to forget about teaching them skills that might not be palpable.
Empathy is built on an understanding of others, and that, Borba argues, is what will prepare them for success.