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Babies Make us More Empathetic

Can simply observing babies make children more empathetic?

That’s the surprising theory behind one of the more successful anti-bullying programs in our nation’s schools.

In this week’s Time Magazine Maia Szalavitz, the co-author of the recently published Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered, reports on Roots of Empathy (ROE), a Canadian program that is slowly finding its way to use in the stateside schools as word of its success rate has begun to get out.

ROE works on a simple principle: a parent brings a baby to school once a month for several months running. Students observe the mom or dad and baby interact. ROE instructors hold discussions with the students about what they expect to see and then do see before and after each visit.  Numerous studies conducted by independent researchers confirm that school’s utilizing ROE see less aggression and more socially cooperative behavior among their pupils after taking part in the program.

Researchers say that much human empathy is hardwired within us, but can be affected by early experiences. Children who experience neglect or abuse, not surprisingly, are much more likely to grow up to be bullies or abusers themselves. ROE, by showing children the relation between a parent and child over time, is able to demonstrate to children how positive interactions impacts the relationship between the two.

So why babies and not an older child? That’s simple. They are incapable of artifice or hiding their feelings and, as a result, even less emotionally tuned-in children can understand if an infant is happy or sad. As ROE founder Mary Gordon puts it, “Babies are exquisite teachers of empathy because they are theaters of emotion. They don’t hide anything.”

Photo Source: D Sharon Pruitt

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