Babies and Bullies

A toddler holds his newborn baby brother.I’ve been telling everyone I meet about a blog post from the New York Times called Fighting Bullying with Babies. It’s about a program, Roots, that brings babies to elementary school classrooms once a month. After Manitoba completed the program into 300  schools, violence decreased by 50%. Not only that, all of the children, whether or not they were every violent, measured higher for empathy. So did the teachers. And the benefits of the year-long program stuck around for at least three years.

My first reaction was that the success of the Roots program is an argument for having large families.  But of course, there are many ways for our kids to interact with babies without having a new one. And having younger sibling is no guarantee that our children will be more compassionate and empathetic.

(A comment on the article mentioned that he hoped the children wouldn’t like babies so much that they wanted their own as teens. With that logic, I guess young people better not see any babies at all, ever. They might like them too much.)

The babies were all two to four months old at the beginning of the school year. Every month, the children sat around the baby and mother (or father), while the instructor talked to them about caring for babies.

To parent well, you must try to imagine what your baby is experiencing. So the kids do a lot of “perspective taking.” When the baby is too small to raise its own head, for example, the instructor asks the children to lay their heads on the blanket and look around from there. Perspective taking is the cognitive dimension of empathy – and like any skill it takes practice to master. . . .

Children learn strategies for comforting a crying baby. They learn that one must never shake a baby. They discover that everyone comes into the world with a different temperament, including themselves and their classmates. They see how hard it can be to be a parent, which helps them empathize with their own mothers and fathers. And they marvel at how capacity develops. Each month, the baby does something that it couldn’t do during its last visit: roll over, crawl, sit up, maybe even begin walking. Witnessing the baby’s triumphs – even something as small as picking up a rattle for the first time — the children will often cheer.

The program is now being implemented in Washington as well. The take-away lesson for me is that life is full of opportunities to teach our children empathy and compassion, with or without a baby at home. It’s only a matter of taking advantage of those moments.

You may also enjoy:

Teaching Compassion to Children: Start When They Are Babies

Tips for Staying Home and Staying Sane

Meet Tal and Talia: How Do Parents of Large Families Do It?

Are Cribs a Safe Place for Babies?

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Photo credit: alicegop

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Comments

  1. I’m all for being empathetic, but I’m kind of suspicious of studies like this. You can’t measure someone’s empathy the way you can stick a thermometer in their mouth and measure their temperature–it’s more subjective. And one short visit every four weeks is not a lot of time for anyone to spend around a baby. I would be more willing to believe that spending time with a baby every day in a large family leads to empathy, than that this program really makes a big difference in anyone’s personality.

    I hope the results are very rigorously established before the U.S. spends tax dollars sending a baby into every classroom.

  2. “The babies were all two to four months old at the beginning of the school year.”

    where did they get these babies from, because i know that i wouldn’t let my two-month-old be handled (or even breathed on) by a classroom of little kids

    “the success of the Roots program is an argument for having large families”

    having another kid may (or may not) help foster empathy among other siblings, but there are so many other (much) more important considerations. imho this ranks at the bottom of the list, and then there are so many other considerations that cancel it out.

    “And having younger sibling is no guarantee that our children will be more compassionate and empathetic”

    to the contrary, it can engender extreme jealousy, internse rivalry and other negative consequences

    “he hoped the children wouldn’t like babies so much that they wanted their own as teens”

    wasn’t that part of the logic of kicking pregnant girls out of school (or later on, separating them into separate classes). people thought (think?) pregnancy is contagious

  3. I also read the article – it sounds amazing! I wrote to them and asked if they would consider bringing their program to Israel 🙂

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