Book Review: “UnSelfie” by Michele Borba, Ed. D.
"Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in our All-About-Me World"
I remember staying up one night after a really tough day with my one year old (yes, my ONE YEAR OLD was already overpowering me). I texted my wise older sister to send me all of her go-to parenting books she’d been telling me about. One is called “UnSelfie,” a book about teaching children empathy. Not only did it influence my communication with my child, but it also inspired me to be more empathetic in everything I do.
Michelle Borba started out as a classroom teacher, working with kids from all different backgrounds experiencing individual difficulties, which led her to pursue a doctorate in education psychology and counseling. While traveling the world to share her expertise on children's emotional and social competency, she began a decade-long search for the cure to inhumanity.
She found the answer: Empathy.
“Hundreds of parents have asked me the question, ‘What do kids really need to be happy and successful?’ and my response surprises most. ‘Empathy’ is my answer,” writes Borba.
“Empathy is the core to everything that makes society civilized, but above all, it makes our children better people, and that’s why I’m concerned. In the past decades, our kids’ capacity to care has plummeted while self-absorption has skyrocketed, and it puts their humanity at stake. Today’s culture values ‘Me’ more than ‘We.’”
We all live in the “Selfie” era and know exactly what it means. We see it on social media and inside advertisements every day. For me, I’ve always been aware of the rising narcissism epidemic, but I haven’t been sure how to actively prepare my children against it. This book provides a great tool with something tangible I can use to armor my kids against self-absorption.
“Self-absorption kills empathy, the foundation of humanity, and it’s why we must get kids to switch their focus from ‘I, Me, My, Mine’ to ‘We, Us, Our, Ours,’” writes Borba.
Every page in Unselfie is filled with incredible tips and powerful research. The book has three parts covering the fundamentals of empathy, how to practice habits of empathy, and how to help your child live an empathetic life. While I wish I could highlight something from all three, here’s my favorite four steps to build empathy with your children and teach them emotional literacy:
“Four Steps to Build Empathy"
Step 1: Stop and Tune in
Empathy starts with attending to one another, so when it’s time to connect with your child, hit the pause button on everything and in your time together; tune in to each other. Don’t let digital devices hinder your family connections. Set and enforce the 4T Rule: “No Texting, Tapping, Talking on a cell, or Tv viewing when others talk or are present.”
Step 2: Look Face-to-Face
Eye contact is how kids learn to read people’s emotions, so face your child and be at eye level when you communicate. Then enforce one habit: “Always look at the color of the talker’s eyes.” The rule helps kids use eye contact and pick up facial expressions, voice tone, and emotional cues.
Step 3: Focus on Feelings
Labeling feelings goes hand in hand with empathy and helps kids build a feeling vocabulary. Here are three easy ways to help kids focus on feelings:
- Name the feelings. “Looks like you’re angry.” “You seem frustrated.”
- Pose questions that tune in to feelings. “Are you angry [tense, worried, sad]?”
- Match the emotion with the gesture. “You seem to be scowling. Are you tired?” “your fists are clenched. Do you feel anxious?”
Don’t judge your child’s feelings; just listen empathically and validate the stated emotion.
Step 4: Express the Feelings
Once kids have an emotional vocabulary, they need opportunities to practice expressing feelings. Start by asking your child: “how do you feel?” Only when your child can express his own feelings should you then switch the pronouns in your question from “How do you feel?” to “How does he,she feel?” The small pronoun tweak takes the focus of your child’s feelings and allows him to begin to consider other people’s concerns.” (As seen on page 18)
Here’s the amazon link to the full book: Unselfie
Hopefully this helps you as much as it helped me!