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Can Babies Cure Bullies?

Mary Gordon, founder of Toronto-based Roots of Empathy, a classroom program to reduce students' aggression, says that babies can help children develop empathy—which could be the answer to the nation's bullying problem.

In a New York Times article, David Bornstein reports that under the Roots program, a mother and her baby visit a classroom each month and sit in the middle of the students, who try to understand the baby's feelings. In addition, a trained instructor conducts three visits linking classroom curriculum to empathy. The program runs from kindergarten to 7th grade.

It may sound farfetched, but Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an applied developmental psychologist, told the Times that this method is proven to decrease children's proactive aggression, which bullies exert, as well as relational aggression, such as gossiping and excluding others. According to Gordon, students maintain their reduced aggression, or have even less aggression, three years after the program.

Borstein, who has observed Roots of Empathy's work in several public schools in low-income neighborhoods, writes:

What I find most fascinating is how the baby actually changes the children's behavior. Teachers have confirmed my impressions: tough kids smile, disruptive kids focus, shy kids open up. In a seventh grade class, I found 12-year-olds unabashedly singing nursery rhymes.

Gordon's biggest surprise, though, was "that not only did empathy increase in children, but it increased in their teachers," she said. "And that, to me, was glorious, because teachers hold such sway over children."

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