Chapter Three: Empathetic Children Understand the Needs of Others Instilling Perspective Taking and Learning to Walk in Another’s Shoes
By Whitney Lawrence
The ability to take on other perspectives is essential to combat the hatred, intolerance, and injustices prevalent in the world. According to Borba (2017), taking on another's perspective is a “gateway to empathy” (p. 49). When we can feel what others feel, see what others see, experience what others experience, we are more likely to show empathy, reduce our own personal biases, and improve our interactions and connections with individuals. But, this is not an easy task. We live in a world where power-assertion discipline styles take precedence over empathy-building practices. Spanking, yelling, shaming, time-out, and reward systems are used to discipline children. The problem with such methods is that they do not position children to consider how their actions affect other individuals. Furthermore, such methods reinforce negative behaviors, degrade and embarrass children, and do not position children to be kind and caring citizens.
No spanking, yelling, shaming, time-out, or rewards??? As a mother of an independent, free-thinking two-year-old, I thought, “How am I going to ever set limits and boundaries? How am I going to encourage my own child to be an empathic, caring human?” The good news is that there are some simple approaches that can make a lasting impact.
Encourage your children to imagine how others might feel, drawing attention to the victim’s distress and emphasizing how the behavior was hurtful.
When talking with children, remember the Goldilocks method-- not too harsh, not too soft, but just right.
Show your children that you’re disappointed, not angry.
Utilize impact statements and inductive-type discipline approaches, ones that focus the child’s attention to the effect of their behavior on another individual.
Our children care what others think and feel. It is imperative that we harness this, setting conditions for them to take on others’ perspectives. When we do this, we not only build habits for empathy, but we also broaden children’s perspectives beyond the ones they carry from their lived experiences alone. The CARE method was shared in this chapter as an inductive-discipline approach that assists children in seeing things from another’s perspective.
Call attention to the uncaring.
Assess how the uncaring affects others.
Repair the hurt and require reparations.
Express disappointment and stress caring expectations.
This method models four central facets of perspective taking while building empathy. Imagination can play a role in building empathy and assisting children with taking on others’ perspectives. We can have children--
Explain a situation from someone else’s point of view
Role play a situation to experience the feelings and thoughts of someone else
Use props to “try on” new perspectives
Imagine how someone else might feel
Ask “I wonder” questions that encourage them to consider different scenarios
Redo a situation by role playing a different approach, reaction, or behavior
In a time and place where behavior charts sit out on children’s desks at school, 94% of parents spank their children by the age of four (Campbell, 2002), and the need for empathic, connected humans is at an all-time high, it is time to reconsider our approaches to discipline. It is time that we instill perspective taking so our children can handle conflicts on the playground now and disputes in the workplace later. Through such an approach, discipline moves from focusing on the behaviors of individuals to the character of individuals. It moves from punishment and consequences to teaching and learning. And most important, our roles are not bosses with power-assertive approaches; rather, we are mentors, leaders, and models who set conditions for kind, compassionate humans who consider and understand the needs of others.
Opportunities to reflect and challenge yourself:
Next time you are in a situation when you have to discipline a child, try an approach shared in this chapter. Share how this worked (or didn’t) and describe what you and the other individual felt, learned, and experienced.
Think about your current discipline approaches, in the classroom or at home, and reflect on one small shift that you want to make. Discuss this shift and the impact it has on you and the others.
Share an inductive-discipline approach that you use with children.
Borba, M. (2016). Unselfie. New York: Touchstone. Campbell, S. (2002). Spare the rod? Psychology Today, September 2002.
Empathetic Children have a Moral Identity: Developing an Ethical Code
by Sandy Emerson
One of the 21st century’s most enduring heroes, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, pilot of the U.S. Airways plane who made an emergency landing on the Hudson River, saved every single passenger on board, despite losing both engines shortly after takeoff. Sullenberger asserts that it was a pledge made as a child, to never be a bystander or abandon anyone in danger, that created the basis for the ethical code he lives by today.
Many adults believe this attitude of service to others has been lost over subsequent generations, but the author believes it can and should be cultivated in today’s children. Borba (2017) suggests that today’s society “tends to focus on cognitive, social, and physical feats” (p. 27), neglecting the traits that build moral identity. Contributing to this trend is the rise in narcissism, excessive praise, and the growth of the number of “entitled” children who think the world should believe they are as special as they have been told all their lives. As these children grow into adults, the ramifications of these factors follow them into colleges and workplaces, causing educators and businesses to employ new strategies to reach this generation that seems to look out only for #1.
According to the author, the foundations of moral identity are created and fortified by giving children images that enable them to see themselves are kind and caring and able to place value on the feelings and thoughts of others (p. 27). Borba wraps up the chapter with a Top Five list of things to know about developing moral identity (p. 44):
Moral identity can inspire empathy, activate compassion, and motivate caring behavior.
To respond empathetically, kids must value the thoughts and feelings of others.
Overpraising can make kids competitive, tear others down, and diminish empathy.
Entitling and “overvaluing” kids may increase narcissism and hamper moral identity.
If a child can imagine himself as a caring person, he is more likely to care about others.
Opportunities to reflect and challenge yourself:
Watch for signs of overpraise in the children your world. How can you positively impact them and help grow and/or undergird their moral identity?
Study the language you use with the young people in your sphere of influence for a week. See what changes you can make to align your praise with character.
Look for ways to actively model the characteristics of empathy, compassion, caring, and ethical behavior.
Pick one suggestion from this chapter to incorporate into your practice at home or in the classroom this week.
Post a reflection of one these challenges in the comments.
Empathetic Children Can Recognize Feelings: Teaching Emotional Literacy
Written by Rhonda Lemieux
I found it quite enlightening that this book began as a conversation among students. The conversation wasn’t around weekend events or breakfast, which is what I would have assumed from a group of eight and nine-year-old children. Instead, this conversation was about a unique visitor. This was not just another administrator coming in to visit the classroom as so often seems to occur with data-driven schools, but it was an infant. A baby! Who brings a baby to a school filled with children? Doesn’t this new mom know that sickness runs rampant in elementary schools? My intrigue was just becoming fueled.
This new baby was part of the Roots of Empathy program. Through the children’s face-to-face interactions with the infant, the children began building empathy. He would laugh, look, and play, allowing the children to experience uncontrolled and authentic feelings. All he had to do was lay there and be a baby. With clenched fists, students began yelling out what they suspected this baby was feeling. Suddenly these young children deemed it necessary to smile at the baby and analyze how they thought it would make the baby feel. This Roots of Empathy was cherishing human existence and human feelings.
Emotional intelligence and emotional literacy are the two topics that come into play in the scenario above. According to Borba (2017), emotional intelligence is “the ability to identify an emotion in yourself or others” (p. 7). I believe that the boy who pointed out the baby’s clenched fists, may have identified an emotion within the new baby. However, he went a step further and decided that the group needed to smile at the baby to show it was okay. This is emotional literacy. Emotional literacy is where, “you read someone else’s, or your own, emotions...it is what motivate[s] a child to care, and it all starts by tuning in to feelings” (p. 7).
Emotional literacy is the gap that seemingly is growing wider and wider due to the idea of using a “‘smart’ mobile device,” which is affecting parenting and socialization as well as the response to genders. Borba discussed the idea about how not only technology, but the stereotyping of gender needs and expectations seems to be a counter-intuitive focus. Finally, along the same lines is the idea that people in the United States seems to be too busy to stop and socialize, speak to someone face-to-face, or redirect attitudes based on the child and not the gender.
Finally, a list of ideas were generated in order to assist those children in comprehending and experiencing empathy. Be an emotional coach by:
Stop and tune in
Look face to face
Focus on feelings by naming them, questioning ideas behind them
Express the feelings in words
Each of these have been broken up into individual strategies depending on the child’s age.
Opportunities to reflect and challenge yourself:
What would you be able to utilize out of this chapter?
So what will you be able to apply in your own life?
Now what will you purposefully attempt to facilitate within your home or classroom?
Share your thoughts and reflections of the previous questions. Next blog posted Feb. 13th over chapter 2.