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Teaching Youth Empathy Critical

Studies have found that one characteristic that is found among children who bully is a lack of empathy (Bullock, 2002; Gini, Albiero, Benelli, & Altoè, 2007). Empathy is an emotional response that corresponds to the recognition of the current feelings of another person (Kalisch, 1973), and is considered a basic component of emotional intelligence (Elliott, Watson, Goldman, & Greenberg, 2010; Goleman, 1996). Empathy has also been defined as the ability to share and understand another person’s emotional state (Caravita, Di Blasio, & Salmivalli, 2008; Cohen & Strayer, 1996; Eisenberg & Strayer, 1987). This is often confused with other emotional expressions, such as compassion and sympathy, which are actually responses to having an empathic connection to another person (Singer & Klimecki, 2014). Compassion and sympathy are believed to mean having feelings of concern for another person, which is then accompanied by the motivation to help that person (Miller & Eisenberg, 1988; Singer & Klimecki, 2014).


Empathy is a complex phenomenon that requires individuals to use their emotional and their cognitive systems in order to understand someone else, by taking their perspective (Bohart & Greenberg, 1997; Miller & Eisenberg, 1988). Using both affective and cognitive processes is what allows individuals to “step into” the experience of others, thereby allowing for greater connection to others (Fingerhut, 2011). According to Eisenberg and Strayer (1987), empathy is an affective reaction that occurs in response to overt cues (e.g., facial expressions) or indirect cues (e.g., the nature of another person’s situation). Individuals lacking empathy typically have difficulty interpreting visual cues regarding others’ emotions, and also express difficulty relating to others and understanding how others might feel (Bossenmeyer, 2010). Studies have found that children who bully show little empathy (Bullock, 2002; Gini, Albiero, Benelli, & Altoè, 2007). One study has demonstrated that low levels of empathy have been related to more frequent involvement in bullying (Gini, Albiero, Benelli, & Altoè, 2007). Furthermore, it has been shown that students who bully tend to display less empathic awareness than their peers who do not engage in bullying behaviors (Warden & Mackinnon, 2003).


IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. IINII has extensive experience in building and using an Indigenous research paradigm.


Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at www.iinii.org, or contact us at iinii@iinii.org or 1800-507-2502.



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