One of the most important social skills involved in bullying prevention is empathy––understanding and responding with caring to what others think and feel. Children are less likely to hurt and more likely to help someone if they can imagine themselves in that person’s place and can share that person’s thoughts and feelings.
Early childhood educators can teach young children to refrain from bullying by helping them learn and practice empathy in direct connection with bullying situations. They can help young children understand how children who are bullied might feel and how they themselves would feel if they were bullied. They can prepare children to become helpful bystanders by helping them recognize when a child who is bullied is feeling hurt and how they might help that child feel better.
The following activities can help children practice the empathy skills they need to refrain from, stop, and prevent bullying.
Activities for Teaching Empathy Skills
Activity 1: Labeling Feelings
Ask children to describe and label how they might feel in these three different bullying situations:
- If they saw someone being bullied
- If they were being bullied themselves
- If they bullied someone
Explain that bullying can lead to strong feelings, such as anger, frustration, and fear. While it’s okay to feel these feelings, it’s never okay to react by doing violent things, such as intentionally hurting someone. Say that if we all work together to prevent and stop bullying, no one in our group will ever need to experience these feelings as a result of bullying.
Activity 2: Different and Similar
Discuss the man ways that children are different from one another. Prompt them with examples, if needed.
- Some children are big, and others are small.
- Some children run fast, and others run slowly.
- Some children like to play with blocks, and others like to draw pictures.
Ask, “What would our group be like if we were all the same?”
Elicit that while at first it might be fun, since we’d all agree on everything, eventually it would get boring, since we would never try anything new, every race would end in a tie, etc. Explain how the differences among us make our group stronger, more interesting, and better able to do different things. Discuss the fact that bullies may bully other children simply because they are different—they try to make differences seem like bad things or weaknesses, rather than the strengths they are.
Now discuss the many ways children are similar to one another. For example: All children eat, sleep, grow, and have feelings. And, most importantly, all children feel hurt when they are bullied.
Summarize by explaining that we should all agree to appreciate our differences, recognize that no one likes to be bullied, and never bully someone simply because he or she is different.
Activity 3: Helping Others Feel Better
First, use these questions to discuss with the group what children can do to help others feel better:
1. How can you know how someone else feels?
Possible answers: Listen to what they say, ask them how they feel, look closely at their face and body, watch what they do
2. How can we recognize when another child is feeling bad or left out?
Possible answers: Making a sad face, not laughing when others laugh, crying, not looking at anyone, playing alone
3. How can we cheer up children who feel bad and help them feel better?
Possible answers: Pay attention to them, pat them on the back, ask them if they’d like to play with you
Next, use role-playing to help children practice recognizing a child who is feeling hurt and helping the child feel better:
- Have the group divide into pairs.
- Ask one child in each pair to pretend that he or she has been bullied and feels bad, while the other child pretends to be a bystander who tries various ways to make the bullied child feel better.
- Have the pairs of children switch roles and repeat the activity.
Discuss with the group how the bystanders could tell that the bullied child was feeling hurt and how the bystanders made the bullied child feel better.
Activity 4: Acts of Kindness
Discuss how an act of kindness is the opposite of bullying because it helps another person feel good instead of bad––it gives a person a good feeling rather than takes away a good feeling. Ask children to describe one nice thing they did for someone else, how it made the other person feel, and how it made them feel. Have each child plan one act of kindness that he or she will do that day for someone else in the group.
At the end of the day, have children report on their acts of kindness. Ask:
- How did this act of kindness make you feel?
- How did the person receiving the kindness feel? (You could ask the giver for his or her perceptions, then have the recipient confirm whether those perceptions are accurate.)
- How do you think you would feel if you had done an act of bullying, rather than an act of kindness?
Conclude the activity by pointing out that doing an act of kindness is not only a great thing to do for someone else, it makes you feel good, too!
Activity 5: The Golden Rule
Ask the children if they’ve heard of the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would want them to do to you.” Point out that this rule could also be phrased as “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.” Ask them if children who bully are caring about other children’s feelings and treating other children the way they themselves want to be treated. Discuss examples of bullying-related things they would not want other children to do to them and why they would not do those things to others. For example:
- I wouldn’t want someone to say I’m stupid, so I won’t say “You’re stupid” to anyone else.
- I wouldn’t want someone to pull my hair, so I won’t pull anyone else’s hair.
- I wouldn’t want someone to say mean things about me, so I won’t say mean things about anyone else.
Then discuss things that they would like another child to do for them and that they might do for another child in return. For example:
- I’d like someone to invite me to play, so I will invite someone to play.
- I’d like someone to tell me that I drew a great picture, so I will tell someone that he or she drew a great picture.
End the activity by reminding the group to treat other children the way they would want to be treated.
Activity 6: Modeling Helpfulness
Discuss the ways that bullying behavior leads both the child who bullies and the child who is bullied to disrespect each other and feel like enemies, rather than friends. Then use pictures, stories, puppets, or other concrete props to model examples of the many ways that children and adults can show that they care about other’s feelings and can help each other. Discuss how caring behaviors make both the giver and the receiver feel happy and good.