It may be hard to imagine young children in pre-school or kindergarten already forming cliques and making other children feel badly by excluding them. But as Laura Landro writes in The Wall Street Journal, educators and parents are becoming more aware that it’s going on, especially among girls.
This has led some elementary schools to create programs to teach young children that empathy matters, and the focus should be on helping others who don’t feel like they fit in.
As Laura Barbour, a counselor at Stafford Primary School in Oregon points out: “I think it’s remarkable that we’re seeing this at younger and younger ages. Kids forget about scuffles on the playground but they don’t forget about unkind words or being left out.”
Psychologists refer to it as relational aggression. It can occur when a child threatens not to be friends anymore as a way of influencing another kids behavior–such as telling their friend not to play with someone they don’t like. And it’s not just the child on the receiving end who ends up getting hurt. Children who are repeatedly the aggressors run the risk of a range of conduct related problems, according to experts.
Kansas State developmental psychologist Mark Barnett says that teaching kids what it feels like to walk in another person’s shoes is the best way for them to learn how to limit their relational aggression. So if your child treats another badly, he encourages parents to ask them, “Imagine how it would feel if someone did that to you?” The programs being used in some schools use a variety of methods to teach kids empathy, from role playing to reading a book and discussing how the character feels and more.
If you have young children, how are you teaching them to be more empathetic to others? Is seeing the way you and their older siblings treat others a positive role model for them? What have you done to help your child if they are being hurt by relational aggression? Share Your Stories with us!