Blog Series: Empathy and Project Heart - Week 2 - Creating Moral Identity

June 29, 2020

What is moral identity? 

In a nutshell, it’s developing a personal ethics code and is imperative in developing empathy. 

This is not to be confused with learning to follow rules, but rather an internal compass that steers one toward making beneficial choices. It’s difficult to develop a moral identity unless parents and teachers work together. Dr Borba uses the story of Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger and the “Miracle on the Hudson” to help us understand that we must help our kids to see and value their moral strengths and caring assets so they can develop empathy.

As a teacher, our Impact and Education Director, Sarah, once had a student who threatened that his dad would sue her when he didn’t like the consequences of a poor choice he made. When she asked him to help her understand, he explained that he and his family were better than lowly teachers like her– you have to love kids and their honesty! We all know a person who thinks they are special or exceptional! Like the guy at work who thinks he can eat anything in the staff fridge and you and your co-workers know it’s him, but you all know the conversation would not go well so you just let it go. Narcissistic kids grow up to believe they are entitled to what they want and have rigid thinking. Empathetic kids grow up to caring about others and are adaptable to situations, people and ideas.

Establishing moral identity is woven into all the Project Heart lessons that focus on discovering personal passions, defining a personal mission statement and identifying needs in the community. You can find these lessons for Elementary, Middle School and High School aged students. Learning philanthropy is just about the best way to help kids see themselves as people who care, which is what ultimately leads to developing an ethical code.

You can begin to build moral identity simply by changing your language. Praise is so important for developing self-esteem. Of course we want kids to feel good about themselves, but some methods have more beneficial outcomes. If you are only praising academic achievement, social abilities or physical talents, you are missing out an opportunity to help reinforce ethical behavior displayed by students. For example, you may know a kiddo who is very intelligent, but that doesn’t mean they are better than kids in their class who don’t score well. Instead of saying, “I’m so proud of you for your great grades,” you can say something like “Wow, these grades tell me you’re the type of person who works hard. Tell me about a time you helped a classmate with a problem!”.

When we’re first learning how to build moral identity, it feels overwhelming to implement all five of Dr. Borba’s strategies at once. Just start at the beginning and practice one at a time like we're doing with behavior-focused and character-focused praise.

How are you helping your kids develop their moral identity? Share on social media using #myprojectheart and share!