Using Empathy As An Antidote For Bullying

Bullying has become a large issue in the live sou many families. As a parent coach, I am often asked how can a parent support and help their child who has been a victim of bullying. But, I have also been asked how to tell if your child is the one doing the bullying. It can be difficult to know how to be a guide for our children when it comes to bullying, especially as more and more peer victimization is occurring via social media and devices.

One thing is for sure, however: we need to talk about how we can build a generation of children who do not bully one another. In this interview, I am so honored to speak with Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All-About-Me World! She shared about her research on bullying, emotional intelligence, and how she found the key to helping put an end to the bullying epidemic in our society!

Check out the interview below!


No time to listen to the interview, check out the transcript below! 

Mercedes: Hi everyone, thank you guys so much for joining me for this awesome interview series. Today I’m talking to Michelle Borba and I’m so excited to speak with her because I have been a huge follower of her work with bullying and just helping support families on how to manage and navigate this horrible world where children are just not so nice to each other. So Michelle thank you so much for granting to interview today. How are you?

Michele: I am so fine and I’m just so glad to finally connect and hear your voice. So thank you for this.

Mercedes: Awesome, so Michelle I know I just talked a little bit about what you do, but I would love for you to share with our listeners a little bit more about what you’re doing and what you’re currently working on and just more about who you are.

Michele: Oh thank you. Well I’m a former teacher that’s probably like my best experience I’ve ever had. I taught in a number of years. I started with special education children; I’m a mom of three; also and educational psychologist; my Masters in learning disability; my Doctorate is in psychology and counseling. But some points along the line, I have become passionate about how do we raise good people and what’s happening of why children are becoming… it seems like cooler but certainly their empathy levels are dipping. And so I’ve written a number of books. The one I’m most proud about just recently released and it’s called “UnSelfie Why Emphatic Kids Succeed in an All About Me World” It’s probable a ten-year project to find all over the world to really find, the best proven practices to help us raise good people.

Mercedes: That’s amazing and I love what you just talked about… about this idea of not just focusing on bullying but really having the focus be more positive and focusing on how to raise good people, I love that.

Michele: Well I think that we’ve may been missing the boat, to me I swear I’ve worked without school shooter, I wrote a bill on how to how to stop school shooting and school violence. I spent years in bullying prevention and I’m convinced that the best antidote for bullying is empathy. And it’s mobilizing 85% of the kids who are bystanders who are watching this and helping them by giving them a skill of moral courage to be able to step in. I did that when I was working… actually with NBC, I’m a contributor to the Today’s Show for a number of segment but probable the most interesting thing I’ve ever done with the dateline special when they called me to do a sting on kids, to figure out which kids will step in to bullying in which will not. And the number one thing that was clear as the camera rolled. It was children who had empathy, who had been taught by their parents’ skills of moral courage to step in and that’s what UnSelfie is all about it actually presenting students with our kids from a young age skills and habit they need to be good kids but also defend others if need to be.

Mercedes: Yeah and you know that’s something that I think you did say and I think we had missed the boat where we do only focus on the two children or the two or more children who are in the altercation, but we really don’t talk about that bystander intervention that I think even adults sometimes could benefit from having of how to step in and speak up and say hey this is not okay. So I would ask you… go ahead.

Michele: You can see my head nodding up and down. I’m nodding up and down and you go yes because in fact all of the work that I just devoured was to look at the research on adult bystanders and here we are pointing to kids going why didn’t you step in and rescue when in reality the most majority of adults don’t.  So this is still an issue that we can turn around, we can teach some skills and some really easy ones to do it. But we must keep in mind that really the basis of the other child who is an up standers is that they first have the empathy, they have to have that first skill which is emotional literacy, so that they can turn and be able to read “Oh, she looks upset, oh she needs help.” That empathy, now what drives the empathy is the moral courage and the skill that we can teach, put the two together oh that’s a win-win.

Mercedes: So I know we don’t have like a whole… I mean we can talk about this forever but if there is a parent who is listening that’s like yes, yes. How do I teach my kid how to have moral courage, how do I teach my kid empathy? What would you say to that parent, what would you tell them to do?

Michele: Well, first of all, empathy can be cultivated. So I think the first thing is we better get on board together as a group of parents to know this is something we can do and we must, because we also looking at empathy has dropped amongst US kids in the last 30 years 40%. That’s means moral courage is going to plummet, and civility is going to plummet unless we purposely and deliberately increase it. Number two empathy needs habits so yes, we’re trying to get to moral courage, but when UnSelfie does is give nine habits that are critical, so that we can move our kids to courage, starting with emotional literacy, start talking feeling far more with your kids. “Oh you look so sad today, oh daddy looks so frustrated today.” Give children more literacy but also give them so that they can read emotions on verbal language, body language and well as facial expression. Tell them to put down those cell phones because you don’t learn it by facing a screen. Second of all what I discovered is that kids who do have courage also have the second habits which is moral identity. You can do that as a parent as well. These are kids who understand that they’re a caring person. So start talking values more in your house. What do you stand? We are the caring Purlin family, we always help, we don’t hurt, or we always help others that need help. Many of the children I interviewed when I was working on UnSelfie told me that their parents had come up with a flag or a banner or even a simple little piece of paper that they run off on computer that put on the refrigerator, it stood for what it really their family motto, their mantra and many of them came up with that mantra by sitting around as a family one night popping the popcorn, putting on their pajamas and then simply asking their kids, what do you want to stand for? What’s the most important thing that we are as a family and children said that with that pivotal moment, when their parents began to go no, we help others we’re caring. One little girl told me that she was asked to go to college and her grandmother had needle pointed her a towel, that says we’re the caring family. She said it was the only thing I wanted to bring away to college with me because it’s what I stood for. So, yes you can have literacy, more emotionally literacy, second you have moral identity, you know what you stand for. Third you’ve got to stop rescuing our kids because if they want moral courage they have got to have the efficacy to be able to stand up and step in. Finally, if we really want to teach moral courage, here’s a few skills that you can do there it is pretty easy, but remember skills are always taught by role-playing. Kids learn them by seeing them not you telling them. So it’s not a lecture, it’s working them through for instance. I call it Buster.  B-U-S-T-E-R. If you see a friend that needs help and you already know that we the caring Purlin family and we already know that we can read that person’s face that says she needs help. The first thing you could is you can actually befriend the person. If you move a little closer to the victim, you actually will be getting the audience away from the bully, that’s what he’s looking for. He’s looking for an audience. Walk closer to the victim, put your arms around her, do nothing just stand there and go “How you doing?” It would be more likely to have other friends move closer. You can also go and get help. You don’t have to stand there. You can move quietly away, go get an adult and report it. Because a lot of times it’s hard to stand up to a bully. You use a distraction which is critically important. I’ve had more high school kids tell me that when it’s something going and peer pressure, what they do is they deliberately throw their backpack in the middle the ground or one kid and the middle stopped a school shooting by pulling the fire alarm. What happens is you disperse the crowd. Kids get off and they start to move to different direction or “Mr. Johnson’s coming or [[00:08:11.05] is coming!” What you’ll do is you disperse the audience. When children realize that bullies are all about contempt, they’re trying to get power and contempt, you can find simple little ways to help them and those are just a few skills that are easy in UnSelfie.

Mercedes: That is amazing! Everything that you’re saying is just so amazing and here is what I love about that you’re sharing. What you’re sharing is not complicated, it’s not like university masters level stuff, this is stuff that families can start doing right now, this is stuff that is so tangible that if you’re listening, if you’re a parent who is listening… you can start doing the stuff right now, it’s never too late, even you have a high school level kid, what I’m hearing for Michele is that just start giving them some of the skills right now and I love that.

Michele: Oh thank you but I really when I was writing UnSelfie I did focus group, there were 500 students and I actually did them around the world. Kids from Columbia, New Zealand an army base overseas as well as across the US. And a big thing that they told me is that they wanted to step in because their own empathy was already there. But their empathy was shutting down because nobody told them what to do and how. They didn’t want to make it worse and they wanted to make it simple. So my goal was to collect practical but proven strategies that are pretty simple. But if we started to teach the kids at an early age what we’ll do is raising a group of kids who are change maker.

There’s another tip that I think is really critical that you can start teaching empathy and moral courage around the age of two. And it’s one critical habit and it’s called always look at the color to talker’s eyes.  Why? You’re having a conversation with your child and even a two-year-old you can say look at mommy’s eyes, what color are mommy’s eyes? A very shy child, you can say look at the bridge of mommy’s nose. Or a child even from his own spectrum you could say look at the dot at the wall behind me. I worked with Autistic children for quite a while. What’s the big value of it? First of all, you’re teaching them to look and start and reading emotions, but you are doing a really, really critical thing that we overlook. If you use eye contact, it actually forces your head to stay up, so you’re actually using stronger body language. And a critical piece that we know from looking at thousand hours of footage of kids who are most likely to be bullied out into the playground, we analyzed them. Researchers from York University analyzed them and what they discovered is the child who use a wimpy body language or appears more vulnerable. That means their head is usually down, their knees are kind of knocking, their hands are kind of out and they don’t know what to do. If they just hold their head up by practicing looking at the color of the talker’s eyes, it automatically makes them use strong by language and they practicing it daily. It’s the first tip to be less likely to victimized as a bullied child.

Mercedes: And let me tell you what I love most about that tip. One of the things that I hear so much is parents being really worried that their kid is going to be bullied, but parent saying more things that kind of bullied the kids, right so they are worried their kids are going to get bullied but then the parent pushes them so much so that the kid doesn’t normally know, how to stand up to their parents, which mean they don’t know how to stand up to other people and what I love about your tip, is that this is something that the child has to learn for themselves, is not something that the parent can do, or force on them, it is something that kid really internally has to understand about interactions with other humans. That is what it sounds like you’re saying gives them the courage and the confidence to stand up, make eye contact and have a different form of body language.

Michele: Yes and you’ve nailed it because what we also first of all… we can’t go about protecting our kids for the rest of their lives, and let me tell you that same body language skills that you’re teaching your two-year old is the same skill that your teen daughter is going to need when she goes off to college and defend herself. It is the same skill that your son or your daughter need when they go in and they take the first interview with an employee, an employee is actually telling me from Harvard Business Review, the first thing they’re looking for as a kid who can walk in, sit down look an interviewer in the eye, shake their hand confidently and conduct an interview. That comes from assertive, confidence language of don’t speak for your child let your child speak for themselves. And what we’ve also learned when you put empathy together that would be the UnSelfie skills.

Plus, here’s another skill that once a kid tells me across the world hands down is what they like the best. It’s called calm – C A L M. Four things that you ever in a situation that radiate confidence, and you can stand up and hold your your own. C is when anybody picks on you or you been bullied. Or you are under peer pressure. Stay cool. Bullies want reaction, they love it if you cry. They love it if you pouch, they love if you say I’m going to tell the teacher. Tell them to stay cool, it is the hardest thing known to man. That is why some kids are picked on more than others. They are quick to angry. You’ve got to practice. It took a number of years probable, stay cool, because sometimes that’s really tough for kids. A is C A L M. Teach them to assert themselves. And even police officers say the best assertive skill is cut it out. Or stop it, not a long one. But just a simple assertive statement, with a period and then walk on. Don’t get into any argument and never insult the kid back.  L is … we already talking about it. Look the kid in the eye hold your head up, so you look like you mean it. The final one M is also really important. Your voice tone, if you are going to assert, must be strong and firm. But not whiney or pouty. You’ve got to practice that tone. Listen to me I’m going to use that stop it, stop it! stop it! stop it. Stop it. Which one you you think a child is picking on you is going to believe. You got to sound like you mean it. Firm and strong. Don’t hold back. Then you practice that over and over and over again. Usual you practice only skill at a time. And when you have empathy along with it, that’s what UnSelfie is going to do is give you dozens of these habits. What you have is a child who has efficacy, they can stand up and be resilient and cope on their own.

Mercedes: Michele everything that you’ve shared has been so amazing and like I said I know we can talk about this forever but really what I want to do is give you the opportunity to let our listeners know how they can contact you, more about how the can pick up UnSelfie and just kind of let us know more about you, and how we can contact you.

Michele: Oh, thank you.  Well the easiest way is through my website and I’m Michele Borba, and that is my same Twitter account. It is @MicheleBorba and almost daily I tweet out like six or seven blogs or tips or you can just follow along. My goal is to just help educators and parents raise good kids, but give them the skills and habits they need not only help their empathy stay open but also help them to develop moral courage. The last habit on Unselfie is altruistic leadership abilities. How can you raise the kid who can be the leader, who can make a difference in the world?  All these skills, you put them altogether, that’s a win-win.

Mercedes: I love it; where can families purchase UnSelfie?

Michele: Oh thank you for that. Just about anywhere, it’s on Amazon for instance online, as a digital form.  It’s an audio book, and it’s also right now on hard back.

Mercedes: Nice, nice. So you guys would know I’d be putting all of Michele’s information, her Twitter, her website as well as some links to get the book in the transcript of this blog post, so if you didn’t get to write it down, that’s totally fine it’ll be there for you. And I just want to say thank you so much Michele for taking the time to talk to us about this important topic and sharing with us ways that families can feel more empowered.

Michele: Oh you’re so welcome because that’s what it is all about.  Raising good kids.

Mercedes: Thank you.

Michele: You’re welcome.


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