How to Build a Kid With a Conscience

by | Oct 14, 2011 | Empathy and Kindness

Being fair and kind can be cultivated in our children.

I’m in Cincinnati at the invitation of the Summit Day Country School to speak with teachers and parents about how to raise goodness in our children. This week I had spoke with Krista Ramsey, education reporter for Cincinnati Here is her report published in the news and online at Thank you Krista! It was a pleasure.

How to Build a Kid with Conscience

by Krista Ramsey, October 14, 2011 Cincinnati

Nationally known parenting expert Michele Borba believes that goodness can be cultivated, sort of like a crop of tomatoes.

She’ll speak on the topic of “Raising Goodness” at an early childhood symposium Saturday at the Summit Country Day School in Hyde Park.

If you want a kind, fair kid, you have to grow your own, she says.

“This isn’t temperament,” she says. “This is teachable.”

Borba, who regularly appears on NBC’s “Today” show, has a reassuring message for parents, but one loaded with responsibility.

It doesn’t matter if you’re busy, broke, young, successful or just not very good at it. You still have to set the expectations, create the conditions, reinforce the behaviors and set the example for the values you want to instill in your child.

Just be careful what you wish for.

The socially sought-after teen you secretly desire may end up being a prisoner to his or her own status.

“Popularity is a myth,” she says. “Research shows that the most popular kids are often not the happiest.”

Nor is academic giftedness the ticket to success.

“Good old grit is really important,” she says. “The kids who can just hang in there have higher grade-point averages and higher achievement than those who just have a high IQ.”

What you’re looking for – for the best chances for well-being and fulfillment – is a sturdy kid who depends on himself, has a keen sense of the world around him and cares about others.

“Too often we get into anti-bullying programs when we need to do the opposite,” Borba says. “Let’s build a caring kid from the start.”

That means separating them from their electronic devices, at least some of the time.

Those who stay plugged in don’t develop empathy, Borba says.

A University of Michigan study backs her up. After studying 14,000 college students over 30 years, it found today’s college freshmen have 40 percent less empathy than freshmen 20 years ago.

The ease of disconnecting from “friends” online might make it easier for young people to tune each other in person. And the competitive, achievement-oriented culture youth are raised in may lower their sense of loyalty – or sympathy – for their peers.

That’s why, Borba says, sometimes it’s good for kids to hurt a little. To struggle a little. Even to not get the lead in the play, job at the mall, or an A in calc class.

She points out that traits like perseverance and self-control may have fallen out of popular favor, but they’re still the building blocks of accomplishment. The 40-year Stanford University marshmallow study – in which impulsive preschoolers got one marshmallow, and those who could wait got two – showed that later the “delayers” had higher SAT scores and fewer behavioral problems than did the early indulgers.

Borba thinks parents know this sort of thing in their gut but they get swept into over-indulgence and college-acceptance-boasting and bad calls in a time crunch.

“They know they’re getting further and further from what they know is right,” she says.

The answer is to love their kids for who they are, and guide them gently but steadily to all they can be.

In the meantime, she says, show a little love to your kids’ friends as well.

“Get to know those kids, and don’t shortchange them. Don’t worry about if their parents don’t cut the grass,” she says. “Your child doesn’t need a whole bunch of friends, but a couple who are loyal.”

“What you’re looking for,” she says, “is the kind-hearted kid who has a conscience.”

To Resister

To register for the event call 513-871-4700 ext 261 or go to and clink on the Early Childhood Symposium logo in the bottom right corner. Summit Country Day School is located at 2161 Grandin Road. I’ll be delivering the keynote at 8:45 am “How to Raise Goodness in Our Children” and again at 11:45 “How to Teach Friendship Skills.” The session is free to the public. Hope is see you there!