Anti-bullying program reaches down to roots

Roots of Empathy program having success in Manitoba

In the aftermath of the Amanda Todd tragedy, the Canadian media have been dwelling directly on bullying, its nature and the public hunger for retribution.

Very little has been said about programs that have been demonstrated to reduce bullying itself. A good example is the Roots of Empathy program (gov.mb.ca/healthychild/roe/) designed by Mary Gordon. It was adopted some 10 years ago in Manitoba and is made available there through the regularly funded school system.

This program uses a monthly class with neighbourhood parents and their infants as the focus and draws upon the innate empathy that youngsters have toward babies. Weekly sessions involve lessons and discussions relating to the experiences that the class members have had interacting with the baby in the presence of its mother or father.

The effects on pro-social development of the children are remarkable and have yielded solid results such as a reduction in bullying, teenage violence and teenage pregnancy: the payback period is lifelong.

While there is a cost associated with this program, trying to fix the consequences of widespread bullying is vastly more expensive and disruptive to society. Roots of Empathy is now also being used in schools in several other provinces. Is it in your school?

Barrie Webster

Victoria