Bullying remains a serious problem in schools across America even though anti-bullying laws and/or policies to prevent bullying and protect children are enacted in every state. Recent studies suggest that rates of bullying may be on the decline, but according to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly a third of all students aged 12-18 reported being bullied at school.
Stopbullying.gov, a federal government website, lists four ways adults can help prevent bullying, including:
(1) helping kids understand bullying,
(2) teaching them how to keep the lines of communication open,
(3) encouraging kids to do what they love, and
(4) modeling how to treat others.
After staring at the list and reading the description beneath each heading, I came to the conclusion that a fifth goal should be considered:
(5) developing students’ empathy skills.
I truly believe that adults can help prevent bullying by developing students’ empathy skills.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Research states that people strong in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others' lives or others' situations. (Gallup’s Strengthfinder 2.0) Gallup researchers report that while empathy is a natural behavior for some folks, it can be an area of lesser talent for others.
The good news is that there’s research available that shows (1) empathy can be learned, and (2) empathy can decrease bullying among school children. In fact, studies conducted by Mary Gordon at Roots of Empathy, an evidence-based classroom program, have shown a significant reduction in levels of aggression and bullying occurred while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. (Source: Gordon, Want to prevent your child from bullying others?, Dec. 15.)
Knowing that teaching empathy skills in the classroom will help students build and maintain healthy relationships and decrease bullying at the same time, I encourage teachers to initiate a plan of action today! A dash of empathy goes a long way!
ELA Writing Connection
Here are a few writing related activities you can use in your classroom as you discuss empathy:
1. Write about a time when you felt empathy toward someone else, meaning that you felt the same way another person did because you could sense the way they were feeling.
2. Write about why you believe empathy is important.
3. Empathy is a skill that can be developed through practice. Write about a few ways you might use empathy to show care and concern for others.