Thoughtful Parenting: Raising empathetic kids |

Thoughtful Parenting: Raising empathetic kids

Every parent wants their child to thrive in the future. But what exactly does that mean? And, in preparing kids for future success, are we nurturing the right qualities?

Recent studies suggest that an overemphasis on academic achievement, especially grades and test scores, are causing kids to be less caring, empathetic and honest. In the past five years, however, there is increasing evidence that the secret to success is the development of non-cognitive skills like empathy and collaboration.

In her book “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World,” Michelle Borba writes that today's teens are 40-percent less empathetic than they were 30 years ago. Harvard University's, “Making Caring Common Project,” found that 80 percent of kids surveyed chose achievement or happiness as their top priority, while only 20 percent said that caring for others is a top priority.

Beyond a greater cultural emphasis on achievement, Borba acknowledges that the ubiquitous presence of digital media and technology have made it more challenging and thus more important to teach children to be kind, practice altruism and appreciate diverse perspectives.

Empathy, like any other non-cognitive skill, can be cultivated. Borba provides specific strategies that can help parents develop empathic, kind children. Ask your child how they helped someone today and how someone helped them.

Books provide a window to see into other worlds, be exposed to different viewpoints and gain perspective. When reading with your child, ask them to identify with the characters and pose questions that encourage them to step into someone else's shoes.

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In addition to playing unplugged games, incorporate service and philanthropy into your family time together.  Most importantly, our children are always watching and following our lead. As parents, one of the simplest ways we can teach our kids empathy is to model kindness and compassion in our own words and actions.   

Samantha Coyne Donnel is the Head of School at Emerald Mountain School, a kindergarten to eighth grade independent school in Steamboat Springs.