Foster Empathy to Help Prevent Bullying

by Christa Hines on October 5, 2017

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. 

Want to prevent bullying? Empathy is the key.

Kids who are high in empathy are less likely to bully. You can begin teaching this skill from infancy. Unfortunately, fewer kids are learning this valuable social skill. Researchers have discovered that the levels of empathy among college students has taken a nose dive over the years and some describe an “epidemic of narcissism”.

Here are simple ways to raise more empathetic children:

Read together. Books are a wonderful way to build empathy skills at all ages. Both fiction and nonfiction books provide us with an opportunity to experience a story and another person’s life through a protagonist’s eyes. Story is a gateway toward helping us grow more sensitive to the challenges others face.  Here’s a list of books for children that helps spark conversations about empathy.

Label emotions. Begin labeling emotions from the time your kids can talk. Playdates are an excellent opportunity to build empathy skills.

  • “Your friend seems sad. What can we do to cheer her up?”
  • “I can tell you are upset right now. Do you want to talk about it?”
  • “That was such an awesome goal that Tina made! Let’s go give her a high five.”

Interview a family member. Teach your kids to ask family members questions about their personal stories. For example, your child might ask their grandparent what a particular holiday was like for them while growing up. For example: What is one of your favorite holiday memories? What is something you are most proud of in your life and why? Your kids may learn about hardships that they might not otherwise have heard about, and how their loved one overcame them. If you have the family getting together for Thanksgiving, place conversation starter questions under their dinner plates as a simple and fun way to segue into sharing family stories after the meal.

Display photos. Include photos in your home of family members, including those loved ones who are no longer alive. Tell stories about these family members and the types of hardships they endured. Talk about the traits you admired about them and why you miss them. 

Volunteer. Find ways for your family to contribute to those in need. By role modeling your caring spirit, your kids will be more likely to think about ways they can help others too.

Adopt a pet. Adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue organization can help kids learn the value of helping an animal in need. Even if you don’t go the rescue route, the simple act of caring for any animal is a valuable lesson in empathy and responsibility. But…P.S….if you’re not a fan of the “cool frog” that your kids found and want to keep in your house, explain how much the frog’s family is going to miss him if they take him away. (empathy+!) 🙂

Watch movies. Check out this list of movies from Michele Borba, Ed. D., author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, which she shares on her blog. 

Choose a social issue to explore. For older kids, who are learning about the many complex issues our society faces, encourage them to delve deeper into an issue. They can read personal stories, various news sources, books and learn how a particular issue impacts lives.

Discuss kind acts and why they matter. Point out news stories that highlight people helping other people. Ask questions like: What is something kind you did for someone today? How did you help someone?

Make the online world kinder. With social media, it’s become easier for kids to engage in bullying without having to look their victims in the eyes. Ask thoughtful questions for them to consider like: “If you share that post or like a post that makes fun of someone, does that make you a participant in the bullying?” To help guide your kids before they post online, teach them to  T.H.I.N.K.: Is it Thoughtful? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring/Informative? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? 

Walk in my shoes. For middle school kids, I thought this “shoe” is a clever and creative empathy building activity that an English teacher does with her students.  Here’s the link if you’d like to check it out. “You  Do Not Know Me Unless You Have Walked in My Shoes.” 

Teaching and modeling moments of empathy in everyday life will help your child grow more sensitive to the world around them and help them be better friends to others. And that’s what the anti-bullying message should really be about.

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