Practicing Empathy

Sallie-Wells-headLetter from Head of School

There’s a new book I’ve been reading that I’m thoroughly enjoying. It’s titled: UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba, Ed.D. The back cover of the book states, “Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were 30 years ago, often with devastating consequences.” That would get your attention – it got mine – 40% less empathetic is hard to ignore. We’ve become a society that is focused more on the “self” than on the “we” – thus the surge of the selfie.
The author suggests that it’s incredibly important to teach children how to perspective take as that is directly connected to empathy. The author further shares a few things that the research tells us doesn’t promote empathy:

1.    Spanking your child. Decades of research tells us that spanking creates undesirable outcomes for children. Some of these include: increase in aggression, increase in anti-social behaviors, increase in mental health issues, diminished moral development and a decrease in empathy.

2.     Yelling at your child. Yelling damages the child-parent relationship. Research shows that individuals that are empathetic have relationships with their parents that are close, warm and supportive.

3.  Time-Out. Feeling isolated and rejected are strong emotions. Time out does not help children gain skills that lead to acceptable social behaviors or help them to learn to perspective take.

4.  Rewarding. Children definitely need to learn what is acceptable behavior and what is not. By rewarding children, we are only motivating them through extrinsic means. “If you’re good, you’ll get a treat.” When those extrinsic rewards are removed, the child does not have the skills to be able to perspective take, show empathy and behave in a manner that is socially acceptable. We need to guide and teach children to be intrinsically motivated – meaning that when you’re not in the room, they will still act in a manner that is socially acceptable – demonstrating kindness, and showing empathy to others, not because of a reward they’ll receive but rather because they want to.

Next week, I’ll write about how to guide and raise children to be empathetic. In the meantime, here’s a mini-Ted Ed lesson on the differences between empathy and sympathy – two concepts individuals often confuse.  Click here
As you’ll see from the Ted Ed lesson, empathy is essential for building strong relationships, which aids in creating strong leaders who know how to perspective take and how to be empathic. At Clariden, our educators work with our students, guiding them in learning how to perspective take and how to be empathic. Through various curriculum, modeling, discussion and conversations our students learn how to “walk in another’s shoes”.
“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands.” – Daniel Goleman
Source: Unselfie…by Michele Borba

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