In Thrivers, The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine (available here), Michele Borba, ED, internationally renowned educational psychologist and bestselling author of Unselfie (here), explains the seven character traits that will safeguard children against adversity in this uncertain world. Dr. Borba encourages parents with common sense advice -- specifically, seven essential life skills -- that help children not only face struggles with greater ease, but come out stronger because of them.
With the current childhood mental health crisis, Thrivers belongs on every parenting bookshelf in the world. It's a deeply researched instruction manual for raising emotionally healthier kids.
With this in mind, here are the three of the many reasons parents need to read Thrivers today:
In the United States alone, approximately 4.4 million children aged 3-17 have diagnosed anxiety (source); and 1.9 million have diagnosed depression (source). The reasons why some kids struggle so considerably are manyfold, but Dr. Borba offers practical advice to parents about how we can help turn these numbers around for the better.
Specifically, in Thrivers, her timely and important book, she encourages parents to teach kids and young adults these seven character traits to offset the effects of adversity: self-confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism.
Dr, Borba combed scientific studies about what contributes to kids' negative thinking, then developed age-by-age steps to building resilience and nurturing a growth mindset. What you'll notice is that the mindset kids have is teachable; children don't need to be born with resiliency and grit to be thrivers.
Children become thrivers tomorrow because mentally strong parents prepare kids for the future today.
Recently, Sarah R. Moore of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting met with Michele Borba ED to discuss these reliable predictors of success, and how parents can point kids in the right direction. We all know raising children isn't easy, but we can absolutely help our children thrive.
Dr. Michele Borba, ED discusses Thrivers, The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. This is an excerpt; watch the full interview here.
Hello friends, I am here today with Michelle Borba, ED, to discuss Thrivers, The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. I'm so excited to share her goodness. I want to know how we can teach kids to be thrivers in this very uncertain world. We are better for her books and for the knowledge that she shares with us.
A moment ago, before we started recording, you told me that Thrivers has been a passion project. Can you tell me a little bit about what drove you to write it?
My whole life, I've been trying to figure out why some kids struggle and others shine. As a special education teacher, I observed that all the kids coming into my class were identified as having severe learning difficulties, for some reason.
However, some of them were struggling less and seemed to be bouncing back. Maybe they weren't going to be bouncing back academically, but they still had confidence. I've kept track of them and many of them are doing quite well in the world right now.
So, it was that moment that I decided to start studying resilience. There's some amazing work that I think is untapped, and that we're not using as parents.
"The first thing I discovered is that resilient children are made resilient. They're not born thrivers. So that means we, as parents, have a lot to do with it. It's not DNA. It's not temperament. It's not birth order. It's that they seem to have protective factors from a skill set that they can learn." - Michele Borba ED, author of Thrivers
The thing that's wonderful is that we can teach those skills, and it's not for tomorrow. We're going to do it the rest of our parenting career. And as a result of our efforts, we're going to help our kids. The same skills help them in the classroom will also help them in life. Here's what they encompass:
That's what Thrivers is -- pulling the science and coming up with practical strategies so we can raise up a strong generation of kids who thrive.
That is beautiful. That is truly world-changing work when you raise a whole generation of people who are more resilient and more able to handle adversity.
I think it's really important to put a reset button on this.
We know that this generation is well loved. They're well educated. They're more diverse and they're wonderful. However, I began to see some stats that were mind-boggling. I learned that they were also the loneliest, most stressed, most mentally exhausted, and they felt empty. And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CDC is showing us that those challenging issues only amplify in a crisis such as the pandemic, even affecting kids at younger ages.
"If a child doesn't have those protective buffers, they'll suffer. But if there's any silver lining to this, it means now is the time to teach the skills." - Michele Borba ED, author of Thrivers
Let's backtrack for just a second. It would be really helpful for people to understand in that thrivers are.
What does it mean? What does it look like? Do you see them walking up the street and go, "Hey, those are thrivers?"
I can see thrivers from a mile away. Not everyone can see them from a mile away because it's more of what happens on the inside as opposed to the outside, but it's basically a kid who's got an "I can do this -- I've got this" kind of an attitude.
"When any kind of little stumbling block comes along the way, thrivers don't quit, give up, or try to have somebody else do it for them. Thrivers find a way through. They brush themselves off and start all over again when necessary. That's what thrivers are." - Michele Borba ED discusses the mindset kids have when they're thrivers
What I discovered is that successful children and young adults usually have strengths in their minds, hearts, and will. We'll discuss how we can point kids towards these things and teach kids these seven character traits that are reliable predictors of success.
That makes so much sense because who we are matters, not what we're doing. That said, so much of society looks at what we're doing.
What is our kid's GPA? How many activities are they involved in? Are they "on track" from the ripe old age of 4 to get into the perfect university 14 or 15 years later? What should we do to help people look beyond the accomplishment -- grades, test scores, whatever it is, and see the whole child?
I agree with everything you said, except I'd say it starts at age 2. It's starting even then -- so early. The most interesting part of the research when I was writing Thrivers, is I interviewed 100 kids, one on one, for an hour each.
I asked them, "Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I understand you were the most stressed out generation known to man. Do you agree?"
"Oh, yeah, we are," they said.
"Well, what's causing it?"
Kid after kid said almost the same thing that you just said, but in kid language. One kid said it the best.
He said, "I think it's because we're being raised as products and not humans, and we're more than test scores." - A child Dr. Borba interviewed while writing Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine
And it hurts so bad to hear him say that because, of course, we want our kids to succeed, but we may be overlooking the inside stuff.
When I asked the kids, "What are your hobbies?" They all looked at me, like "What do you mean? We have this activity and this activity and this activity..." -- but hobbies help a child decompress.
A very simple perspective is, don't overlook the ordinary things that help your kid become extraordinary. When we look at the research, many of the resilient kids use prayer or spirituality. It helps them decompress.
Now that may not be for you -- fine -- other kids go read. Other kids say, I listen to a certain kind of music. Other kids walk around the block or shoot baskets. The point is that they figure out how to decompress and they go to that.
"When push comes to shove, what we're doing is waiting until the kid is an anxiety attack and then trying to teach him how to calm down. By then, it's too late. Helping kids feel connected to something greater than themselves is one of the highest correlations to reducing stress." - Dr. Michele Borba, author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine
When kids become self-absorbed, what happens is their empathy goes down. Their stress goes up.
After awhile, what happens, because you have to dial your empathy down when you're stressed -- because you're in survival mode -- burnout is the outcome.
There's hope for mental health turning around. Maybe the place to start is with parents who say, "Okay, now we've listened. So what are we going to do about this?"
The first step to change is realizing this is not an overnight process. It's not going to be difficult. You don't need a PhD and it's not another program or an app.
It's just intentionally saying, "I'm going to make sure that my child also learns to thrive." Now, let's figure out "What am I going to do tomorrow?"
Yeah, and what a paradigm shift for so many of us, big and small.
I think, perhaps, we often approach this the wrong way. In Unselfie, you wrote about the role of empathy and connecting with one another, and seeing other people's perspectives.
We sometimes think that to help our kids grow their empathy, we just need to tell them how others feel. It's more than that, though.
Empathy is probably the most highly correlated to mental health. And when we're looking at what's going on right now, and why are kids tanking?
It's because they're lonely. They don't have social connection. They're looking at screens and not each other. So what do we do?
Don't throw up the white flag and go, "I can't do anything."
The first thing is, they need to practice empathy. It's kind of like a muscle and it needs to be stretched and worked out.
You can do that at home, with your family meetings. You can do it with listening.
Maybe the fastest thing with a young child is tell them, always look at the color of someone's eyes when you're talking because it first of all, it makes the child hold their head up. If your child holds their head up, they're going to be seen as more confident.
The second thing is they'll start noticing is the person's face.
Realizing the other person exists, and the gateway to empathy, is emotional literacy.
So what are they going to be doing? They're going to be looking at the facial expressions.
And now here's your next tip that for the next three, four, five years, start talking about feelings more naturally with your kids. You can't empathize and feel with another person unless you realize, she looks sad, or he looks upset, or he sounds grumpy.
If you're asking, how do I do that during a pandemic?
You tell your kid, let's call Grandma, but it's always through Skype or FaceTime, and you prime the child before they begin.
Listen to Grandma's voice, and you'll know when she's tired, and it's time to hang up, or watch her face, and you'll know when she's happy, or when she's sad.
You'll know what to say.
You can prime the child, but note this other little point.
All the research says we do a far better job of teaching empathy with our daughters at age 2, than we do with our sons at age 2. We need to do this with boys, too.
So just talk naturally.
If you have a middle school kid, watch the movie Inside Out or a show on TV. Every once in a while, turn the sound off and do feeling charades. Ask, "How do you think he's feeling right now?"
Just talk about it because that's the first gateway to empathy. Then you can help your kids start stepping into the shoes of somebody else.
You mentioned that thrivers don't have to thrive only because of their DNA. Much of their ability to be thrivers stems from what we can teach them through their childhood and family relationships. At the same time, we know kids are born with different dispositions and temperaments.
For example, my daughter is very sensitive. I remember her being two years old, and we were in a store one day where there was a large photo on the opposite side of the store from where we were. From across the busy store, she looked at the photo and asked, "Mama, what are those people feeling right now?"
We were surrounded by all sorts of things that could've been overloading her sensory systems at this busy store, but she wanted to know what those people in the photograph were feeling. On the flip side, I know plenty of kids who might see me bawling my eyes out, for example, and they'd be like, "Everything's fine. She's happy. I don't see it."
How does the innate difference in the "wiring" of these kids play out in empathy and becoming thrivers?
I love that question, because sometimes we've got one kid who watches Bambi and is a basket case for the rest of their life. We've got another kid who watches it and is fine.
There are actually three kinds of empathy. I call it the ABCs of empathy. You're going to be able to figure out which of your kids are strong in which area, and there's where you parent.
You might have a child who sees somebody in distress and soon, they're sobbing with them. What you want to do with that child is give them permission to step back. Let them know they can't take it all in. They can't solve everyone's problem. You need to give them permission so they don't care so much.
I love Mother Teresa -- she had the best of the best lines. She said, if I kept looking at all the masses, I would be a basket case. I can't do it. All the people who are starving; all the people that were hurting. So I just look for one, and that helps. You say, "What is the one thing you can do for that one person?" We can't solve everybody.
The second kind of child may not be the crying kind. They may not be the one who looks like they're upset, but they're actually quieter. They're more the thinking kind. Don't assume they don't have empathy.
They're trying to process it and they're trying to think about how that other person feels. Where's he coming from? Oh, bless this kid, because that's what we need. They have what's called perspective taking skills. That is, by the way, the top employability factor right now, as Harvard says. We want kids to step into others' shoes.
Now to that kid, you have to say, "You don't have to agree with what someone else says. Just try to understand where they're coming from."
The final kid is the kid who wants to step in and do something. That's the behavior side. And that's what's called empathy, and action, and compassion.
When I interview those kids, it's each one is so different on what their passion is. As a parent, we need to ask, what's driving your child's concerns? Let the child lead you in that direction.
I have three boys. When they were little, I took them to see the movie, The Bear. I didn't realize it was so sad. My little one was a basket case. By the end, he came home and said, why are they shooting the bears? He said to me, "I've got to dictate this letter to you so you can send it to the President. Stop killing the bears."
I thought, "Well, this is gonna go over like a lead balloon," but he dictated a letter, I put it in an envelope, lo and behold, that kid got letter after letter after letter from the government. He knew he had to take action. Gosh, am I glad he dictated the letter and I put it in the mail. It helps our kids know that when you have stress, you can be a change maker. You can make a difference. It's one of the best ways to reduce a child's stress.
Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned educator, award-winning author, and parenting, child and bullying expert recognized for her solution-based strategies to strengthen children’s empathy, character, and reduce bullying. She is an NBC contributor who has appeared over 150 times on the TODAY show and featured on countless shows including: Dr. Phil, Dateline, The View and CNN. Her 24 books have been translated in 20 languages including End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy, Building Moral Intelligence, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. her latest (March 2021) is Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. She offers realistic, research-based advice culled from a career of working with over one million parents and educators worldwide. Follow her on Twitter @micheleborba and Instagram @drmicheleborba