Can teaching compassion to young kids curb bullying?

The English Montreal School Board's new KINDERgarten initiative aims to help foster compassion and kindness in children to reduce bullying in schools



EMSB staff and students at the launch of the board's new KINDERgarten initiative

With several high-profile cases of bullying in the news, and in light of the National Assembly’s recently passed anti-bullying legislation, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is taking a proactive stance to curb aggressive behaviour in young kids. In January, the school board launched the KINDERgarten campaign, which will provide tools for teachers to help students foster compassion and kindness.

Teachers will be provided with a list of activities and games they can undertake in the classroom all year round.  Some examples include random acts of kindness, and games and videos on listening, communication, and anger management.  Another example called ‘Project happiness’ teaches lifelong skills that influence happiness and develop social and emotional learning.

EMSB Violence Prevention Consultant Daphna Leibovici, who helped to develop the activities, said that the project is designed to support teachers and students over the long term.

“You have to start teaching this early, and you have to do it in a comprehensive way,” she said. “This isn’t a one-shot deal.  We want to encourage teachers and communities to adopt solutions that are long-term, multi-level, that build social skills and that work with families and communities.”

The focus at this age is on developing kindness and empathy, and on teaching children to communicate and be good allies to each other rather than on the ‘heavy’ topic of bullying itself, she said.

She said that the EMSB wanted to get away from the idea of having single activities or an ‘anti-bullying day’ in favour of solutions and activities that take place over the course of the year and can be continued into grade one.

Equally important, Leibovici says, is the idea of supporting teachers and giving them the resources they need to best help their students. None of the activities are mandated; instead, teachers are invited to choose the ones they feel will address the specific needs of their classrooms.

“Teachers are the most important people in a young child’s life when they’re not at home,” Leibovici said.  “This initiative is not about adopting a program.  It’s an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about how to address these issues and develop pro-social skills in children.” 

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