'Roots of Empathy' program helps reduce bullying

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on June 19, 2010 at 2:16 PM

Updated Saturday, Jun 19 at 2:17 PM

A program called Roots of Empathy at Washington schools is meant to teach compassion and reduce bullying.

Monthly visits with a baby help students develop social skills, learn to express feelings, and recognize others' needs.

Trained instructors teach infant safety and development. And students learn to read a baby's cues.

"He doesn't like green beans. So he would make a nasty face. When he's happy he would smile," said Harper Wagner.

"I learned how to understand their feelings," said Brandon Tam, a fifth grader at Emerald Park Elementary.

Dr. Daniel Seigel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, was in town for the celebration. He says programs like this one are crucial to prevent bullying that causes lifelong trauma.

"When you're alienated from the group, from a bullying experience, it has huge impacts. it gives a feeling that there's an impending death threat," he said.

He says as students closely study the babies, they also learn about controlling themselves.

"If you're more likely to understand another person's point of view, and you're frustrated, and you understand your own emotions, you can understand that you yourself have to find another avenue rather than hurting someone," he said.

When researchers followed Canadian students who went through the Roots of Empathy program they found those kids were less aggressive than peers and had better social behavior even three years later.

That paves the way for a more positive experience when these little ones are ready for school.

This year 38 Western Washington schools took part in the Roots of Empathy program. Organizers hope to expand to 50 schools next fall.

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