bullying prevention by teaching empathy through caring for baby in classroom, new york times article, http://PragmaticMom.com, Pragmatic Mom

Teaching Empathy to Prevent Bullying

Best Anti-Bullying Program for Schools

The best way to create a caring climate is to engage children collectively in an activity that benefits another human being.

Ervin Staub, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts

Instead of posting on articles covering bullying and education, I have been tweeting them on Twitter (@PragmaticMom) and facebooking to my Facebook page (PragmaticMom), but this article stuck in my mind the other day when a Mom Friend mentioned an older post I did on Teaching Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom.  We both agreed how effective teaching social skills can be in elementary school and wondered why more schools didn’t add this into their curriculum.  I’m not sure but I presume that it has something to do with No Child Left Behind. Emotional intelligence is not something that is being tested state wide; hence it’s not on the curriculum.  Call me jaded but that’s how I see it.

Bullying, however, has hit a collective nerve that reaches the White House so it’s possible that a Bullying Prevention Program that includes Empathy Training may make it to your school.  If so, the best program is one developed by Mary Gordon, founder of Roots of Empathy.

What is interesting about this approach — teaching empathy to prevent bullying — is that it’s based on scientific research not fluffy stuff and that there is actually a biological drive to be kind!  We humans are hardwired for this:  “Brain scans reveal that when we contemplate violence done to others we activate the same regions in our brains that fire up when mothers gaze at their children, suggesting that caring for strangers may be instinctual. When we help others, areas of the brain associated with pleasure also light up.”

And how do you apply this in the classroom?  The program came out of work done by Mary Gordon, an educator who built Canada’s largest network of school-based parenting and family-literacy centers after having worked with neglectful and abusive parents. Gordon had found many of them to be lacking in empathy for their children. [The abusive parents] hadn’t developed the skill because they hadn’t experienced or witnessed it sufficiently themselves.  She went on to found Roots of Empathy which applies this program to a classroom setting.

The secret for teaching empathy in the classroom is … a baby!

‘Here’s how it works: Roots arranges monthly class visits by a mother and her baby (who must be between two and four months old at the beginning of the school year). Each month, for nine months, a trained instructor guides a classroom using a standard curriculum that involves three 40-minute visits – a pre-visit, a baby visit, and a post-visit. The program runs from kindergarten to seventh grade. During the baby visits, the children sit around the baby and mother (sometimes it’s a father) on a green blanket (which represents new life and nature) and they try to understand the baby’s feelings. The instructor helps by labeling them. “It’s a launch pad for them to understand their own feelings and the feelings of others,” explains Gordon. “It carries over to the rest of class.”’

‘The baby seems to act like a heart-softening magnet. No one fully understands why. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an applied developmental psychologist who is a professor at the University of British Columbia, has evaluated Roots of Empathy in four studies. “Do kids become more empathic and understanding? Do they become less aggressive and kinder to each other? The answer is yes and yes,” she explained. “The question is why.”

Empathy can’t be taught, but it can be caught,” [Roots of Empathy Founder, Mary] Gordon often says – and not just by children. “Programmatically my biggest surprise was that not only did empathy increase in children, but it increased in their teachers,” she added. “And that, to me, was glorious, because teachers hold such sway over children.”’

‘The results can be dramatic. In a study of first- to third-grade classrooms, Schonert-Reichl focused on the subset of kids who exhibited “proactive aggression” – the deliberate and cold-blooded aggression of bullies who prey on vulnerable kids. Of those who participated in the Roots program, 88 percent decreased this form of behavior over the school year, while in the control group, only 9 percent did, and many actually increased it. Schonert-Reichl has reproduced these findings with fourth to seventh grade children in a randomized controlled trial. She also found that Roots produced significant drops in “relational aggression” – things like gossiping, excluding others, and backstabbing.”‘

And the final kicker:  students learned parenting skills  and had a greater appreciation for  the work their parents do for them.  Now this is a Bullying Prevention Program that is a Gift That Keeps Giving.  Sign my kids up, please!

p.s.  You might like this post too.  Top 10:  Books That Teach Kids Compassion


Fighting Bullying With Babies

For the full article, please click here.
p.s. For other posts on bullying, please click here.
p.p.s.  For Top 10 Tips to Reduce Bullying and Cyber Bullying, click here.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

1 Comment

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