Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

If each one of us untangled one string at a time...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Teaching Empathy and Bullying Prevention

My last post talked about the elementary school "One for All" Leadership campaign. It's simple goal is to have older kids mentor younger children. It's not the whole answer by a long shot but it's one of the answers in creating a more positive school climate. Although the older grades are asked to teach the younger ones lessons in friendship and respect, the overriding lesson is compassion.

You can't talk about compassion. You have to demonstrate it. As the "buddies" get to know each other, they learn to listen to each other. Why is this so important? Because some types of bullying make kids feel invisible. No one should suffer with the feeling that they're not important enough to be seen.

Why do we need to teach young kids empathy?
According to an article in Time Magazine's August issue, How Not to Raise a Bully: The Early Roots of Empathy:

Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and educators believe that bullying and other kinds of violence can indeed be reduced by encouraging empathy at an early age. Over the past decade, research in empathy — the ability to put ourselves in another person's shoes — has suggested that it is key, if not the key, to all human social interaction and morality.

Someone commented on the post that a leadership campaign is "good in theory" but there are "mean teachers and mean kids out there." I agree with three quarters of that comment. Meanness is the enemy and that's why this fight is worth it. If part of the answer is making sure that there is someone in the building that "sees" each child, it's worth a shot. Building compassion takes a lot of effort. It doesn't happen overnight but the benefits get passed along for generations. It's also fun and we could all use a little of that every day.

The most surprising part of seeing these partnerships in action? In the process of helping to build self confidence in the younger kids, sometimes it's the older kids that benefit the most. When a first grader looks up to them as an eighth grader, it doesn't matter if they're the most popular in the class or if they were just ignored at lunch. All that goes away at the moment when a 6 year-old thinks you're the coolest thing on earth.


  1. May I suggest further resources to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.

    Also, I just posted a link to your article about empathy to our Empathy Center Facebook page.

    I posted a link to your article in our
    Empathy and Compassion Magazine
    The latest news about empathy and compassion from around the world

  2. My daughter is highly sensitive, diagnosed with epilepsy some years ago and the meds did their job but increased her anxiety which made her more prone to teasing and bullying. Just recently her her anxiety was triggered again as she was feeling very alone, excluded and getting side ways remarks from the other year 5 girls that are supposedly her friends.

    I spoke to her teacher, who's been terrific, about this. I said the mentoring program was a great idea where the girls in my daughter's year learn how to manage conflict in the playground etc AND I said to her, are these girls actually applying it amongst themselves fristly!

    Great right up