What if a baby could help your child learn about empathy?
At a Washington elementary school, an infant named Claire is helping kids to become kinder, reports PBS NewsHour. Claire is part of the Roots of Empathy program, whose mission is to build more compassionate and peaceful societies by helping kids and adults better identify with the feelings of others.
“It made a lot of sense that you would teach [empathy] through a baby,” Claire’s mom Jenny Fitzpatrick told PBS. “Because sometimes when you try to teach kids to respect each other just using their peers they don’t always pay attention. But a baby is pretty much a universal little thing that people care about, and it’s a really simple way because Claire tells you how she’s feeling. She’s not going to pull any punches.”
“Hello baby Claire, how are you?” sing the kindergarten students at Lake Forest Park Elementary when Claire and Jenny arrive. During Claire’s visit, the kids talk about her feelings and their own emotions. They also learn about Claire’s development and try to guess what she’s learned since visiting last.
"It helps children learn to identify emotions, to become self aware and to develop relationship skills,” Kim Schonert-Reichl, a professor at the University of British Columbia, told PBS.
Researchers at the University of Virginia found that kids dropped out at a higher than average rate in schools with prevalent bullying and teasing. In contrast, a 2011 study argued that those who participated in programs like Roots of Empathy had stronger emotional skills and higher standardized scores.
Roots of Empathy, which started in Toronto and reaches kids from kindergarten through eighth grade, aims to decrease aggression and bullying by raising emotional and social competence.
“When I first heard about the program I thought, ‘That’s crazy, to bring a new infant in a classroom of 23 five-year-olds,’” Aimee Miner, the principal of Lake Forest Park Elementary, told PBS. “The first thought was, ‘Risk management, what are they going to say about this?’ But then I saw it in action and I saw the power of it, and I was a true believer that this is the right thing to teach kids.”