Empathy Skills = happy and successful students!

Posted in: Blogs, Healthy Schools, Positive Mental Health

Empathy is not simply an innate trait, it is something that can (and should) be taught.  Evidence shows that kids who have greater skills in empathy are more successful and happy.  Cultivating empathy in our children, “affects our kids’ future health, wealth, authentic happiness, relationship satisfaction, and ability to bounce back from adversity.  It promotes kindness, prosocial behaviors, and moral courage, and it is an effective antidote to bullying, aggression, prejudice and racism.  Empathy is also a positive predictor of children’s reading and math test scores” (Borba, 2016, p. xiv). In her latest book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Met World, Michele Borba details evidence based tools and techniques that teachers and parents can use to cultivate empathy in our young people.  Through teaching the 9 skills detailed below, children will have what she dubs the “Empathy Advantage.”  Thus allowing them to reap the benefits mentioned earlier.

Emotional Literacy: The ability to recognize and understand the feelings and needs of oneself and other.

Moral Identity: They will adopt caring values that guide their integrity and activate empathy to help others.

  • Try this:
    • Create a motto that describes your classroom/family
    • Identify your core classroom/family values
    • Create personal mantra’s for your students/children

Perspective Taking: They can step into other’s shoes to understand another person’s feelings, thoughts and views.

Moral Imagination: They can use literature, films, and emotionally charged images as a source of inspiration to feel with others.

  • Try this – Reading is the most valuable way to build moral imagination. Read to your students/children and ask these types of questions:
    • “What if?” Questions (i.e What if you were that character?)
    • “How would you feel?” Questions (i.e. Look at the characters face … how do you think she feels? Have you ever had that same experience?)
    • Switch the focus from “me” to “you” (ie.Pretend you’re the character. How do you think she feels right now?  What does she need to feel better?)

Self-regulation: This will help children learn to manage strong emotions and reduce personal distress so they can help others.

Practicing Kindness: This will increase children’s concern about the welfare and feelings of others.

Collaboration: This will help them in working with others to achieve shared goals for the benefit of all.

  • Try this:
    • Use diverse literature (check out mighty girls site for good diverse literature options)
    • Learn one new thing about schoolmates per day
    • Stress encouraging others

Moral Courage: Gives them the strength to speak out, step in, and help others.

Altruistic Leadership Abilities: Motivates them to make a difference for others, not matter how small it may be.

  • Try this:
    • Find your child’s/classroom’s passion
    • Start with one small local act
    • Utilize positive social media

For more tips and tools you can watch Dr. Borba’s short TED Talk or read the book!


Desirea Agar is a Health Promotion Coordinator for Alberta Health Services. February 2018.

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