9 Habits of Empathetic Children

admin August 7, 2016 Comments Off on 9 Habits of Empathetic Children
9 Habits of Empathetic Children

Join the #UnSelfie Revolution to Raise Kids with Empathy, Moral Conviction and Courage To Make a Better World

Most writers admit that there is one moment where a book started to gel. Mine was at the United States Air Force Academy where I was speaking to the faculty and cadets about character development. It was there that a young cadet asked me the question of a lifetime.

“Dr. Borba, I know that character is diminishing,” the nineteen-year-old began, “but chances are I will lead my troops into battle. I want to be sure that I’ll be an ethical warrior and do what’s right for them.” And then he paused and asked: “So what does research say that helps people keep their empathy open in times of stress? You know, what habits did Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa learn to stay strong and think of others?”

I must admit I’ve never been asked such a powerful question, but I ensured him I’d find the answer. And so began a five-year search of reading over 60 biographies on Nobel Peace Prize Winners, altruistic rescuers and Carnegie Medal winners. And I discovered the answer. The majority said that along the way they learned habits that helped increase their courage and moral conviction as well as activate their empathy in challenging times.

In my research journey I also culled the science and interviewed top researchers and I identified nine habits that highly empathetic individuals use. These same habits are also essential for enhancing social-emotional competencies, resilience, academic success, leadership, healthy relationships, moral courage, happiness and mental health. What’s more, all the habits are teachable, and don’t require costly programs or apps.

I’m convinced that these habits are essential to help our children thrive in today’s Brave New World and they are sadly often-overlooked in our parenting and educational agendas. The result: A dismal 40 percent dip in American teen empathy in the 30 years, and rise of what I call “the Selfie Syndrome.”

These nine habits form the blueprint to helping children acquire “the Empathy Advantage” that I describe in my new book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. Each chapter in UnSelfie offers dozens of simple, practical, proven ways to nurture those habits so children Develop, Practice, and finally Live Empathetically.

9 habits of empathy

9 Essential Habits of Empathetic Kids


Habit 1: Emotional literacy. Teaching emotion literacy as the gateway to empathy so children can recognize and understand the feelings and needs of others in their body language, voice tone or facial expressions. Chapter 1. 

Habit 2: Moral Identity. Helping children develop ethical codes and caring mindsets so they are more likely to adopt caring values that guide their integrity and activate their empathy to feel with and help others. Chapter 2. 

Habit 3. Perspective taking. Stretching perspective taking abilities and Theory of Mind so children can step into others’ shoes to understand another person’s feelings, thoughts, and views. Chapter 3.

Habit 4. Moral Imagination. Using elevating, emotionally-charged images in literature, film, news and images as a source of inspiration to help children empathetic. Chapter 4. 


Habit 5. Self-Regulation. Helping children learn ways to manage strong emotions and reduce personal distress to keep their empathy open, avoid the Empathy Gap and be more likely empathize and to help others. Chapter 5

Habit 6. Practicing Kindness.Developing and exercising kindness and pro-social behaviors to increase children’s concern about the welfare and feelings of others and enhance the likelihood that they will step in to help, support or comfort others. Chapter 6. 

Habit 7. Collaboration. Cultivating teamwork and collaborative abilities to help kids work with others to achieve shared goals for the benefit of all and develop a WE, not ME mindset. Chapter 7.


Habit 8. Moral Courage. Promoting moral courage and teaching children Upstander skills and situational awareness to embolden them to speak out, step in, and help others. Chapter 8. 

Habit 9. Compassionate Leadership Abilities. Cultivating altruistic leadership abilities to motivate children to make a difference for others, no matter how small it may be and boost their chances of becoming Social Changemakers. Chapter 9.

What Are You Doing to Cultivate the Nine Habits?

I will describe each habit more thoroughly in upcoming blogs as well as proven benefits for nurturing them in our children. UnSelfie provides over 300 strategies educators and parents can use to help children acquire these nine vital habits.

Empathy can be cultivated in our youth and doing so will dramatically enhance their success, happiness and well-being. It’s why we must address both sides of the report card.

Which empathy habits are you helping your children acquire?

Which empathy habits might you be overlooking?

Which empathy habits is your school addressing or may be overlooking

Which habit are you interested in nurturing in your children or students?

I’m now starting a cross-country tour to speak to schools, communities and parents on ways to implement these habits school-wide or at home.

If you’re interested in a possible keynote or workshop please contact my speaking agent, Michele Fee Smith mfeesmith@apbspeakers.com (617) 614-1606 of the American Program Bureau. 

Here’s to a generation of caring, committed, courageous – and successful children!


unselfieMy latest book is UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World with proven answers we can  use to raise good people.I hope you join me in starting an #UnSelfieRevolution to put empathy, kindness, caring, and courage back on our child-rearing an educational agendas.

Follow me on twitter: @micheleborba, Facebook: and my blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check where I’ll give you proven practices to produce a generation of strong, caring kids. 

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