Written by Dru Ahlborg, Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In the context of bullying, empathy plays a crucial role in both preventing and addressing instances of bullying. When individuals possess empathy, they are better able to recognize the emotions of others, including those who may be targeted for bullying. This heightened awareness can lead to increased compassion and a greater willingness to intervene or speak out against bullying behaviors. Teaching and promoting empathy can help create a more inclusive and empathetic school culture, ultimately reducing the prevalence of bullying. In this way, empathy is a key factor in fostering a safe and positive environment for all individuals.

Empathy helps create a sense of “we” through feelings that are common. It allows humans to anticipate what might make a person feel better. Research tells us that empathy is not a fixed trait and it can be fostered. It is a set of skills that are cultivated over time and the more we practice, the better we are. Empathy lies the foundation that we are all humans that share the same fears and concerns and deserve to be treated with dignity.

The beauty is that empathy can be taught. Studies show that children who are empathetic have better relationships and perform better in school and are less likely to harass and bully others. What follows are several ideas from “Very Well Family” of how to teach children to be empathetic.

  1. Meet your child’s emotional needs: Parents cannot expect their children to be loving and kind if the children are not being treated with love and kindness. As adults, we should celebrate children where they are. Take verbal and emotion notice of hard work, accomplishments and of setting and achieving goals.

  2. Help children identify and share their feelings: When kids understand how they feel and can name those feelings, they are better equipped to identify similar feelings in others. It is important to allow children to express their feelings including negative ones. The goal is to communicate feelings in a productive way without violence or bullying.
  3. Explore other perspectives: Teach children to look at situations and understand how it may be experienced from another person’s point of view. Children who are capable of viewing situations from a different perspective are more likely to understand how children who differ from them may feel in those situations.
  4. Model empathy: Have conversations with children about how another person may be feeling and why you responded the way that you did. Explain why you choose to be kind and helpful to others.
  5. Teach children to find common ground: Research shows that kids are more likely to feel empathetic toward someone if they can relate to how a person is feeling. If a child has had a similar situation happen to them, they are more likely to be empathetic and kind to that other child.
  6. Help them imagine how someone else feels: Look for opportunities to discuss with children how another person may be feeling. It is important to share your thoughts and very important to allow the child to speak freely too.
  7. Explain how their behavior impacts others: This is where the rubber meets the road. It is important to speak with children about the consequences impact another person. Coach children to consider others before making decisions and acting.

In conclusion, nurturing empathy in children is essential in addressing and preventing bullying. By teaching children to understand and share the feelings of others, we can instill a sense of compassion and kindness that will guide their interactions with their peers. Through education, modeling empathy in our own behavior, and providing opportunities for children to practice empathy, we can help create a more empathetic and inclusive society. It is through fostering empathy that we can empower children to stand up against bullying and create a more caring and understanding community for all.

“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.”  —Mohsin Hamid