Do you know what the number one thing is that stops bullying in its tracks? It is genuine empathy for others. There is growing body of research that has found that genuine empathy by bullying students towards targeted students is the most effective antidote to bullying.
Punishing the bully is less effective and often results in the bullying continuing but out of the sight of adults. Research has also found that students who have greater empathy for others tend to have happier relationships, both now as well as in their adult relationships. Furthermore, the more emotionally intelligent they are, the more likely they are to achieve academically.
So what can parents and adults do to encourage greater empathy in their children? One of the best ways to do so is to set the example by modelling caring behavior Young people will not always remember what we say, but they are more likely to remember what we do. Show genuine care both to loved ones as well as people outside of your family. When you have hurt someone, even unintentionally, show them it is the right thing to do to respond in a caring way, apologizing and making amends if necessary.
Praise your children when you see them doing the right thing in caring or being considerate for another. When their behavior has been hurtful to another, you can ask them to reflect on how that person may be feeling. You could also ask them to remember a time when they were unhappy. When that child is able to do so, you might then say that you believe that the person who has been hurt is probably feeling the same way.
Most children or adolescents who are able to genuinely appreciate how their behavior is affecting another, are better able to change their behavior or make amends. Those who take pleasure in causing pain to another need to reflect if their behavior is really helping them be the person they want to be. Or they need to be taught about how good relationships work.
We can also encourage empathy in our children by encouraging care for a sibling or even a pet. Of course, there are many adults who also need to develop greater care for others. As we develop greater empathy, we not only become more whole people, but also more aware of how our actions can impact on others, and the need to take action to make things right.