You lookin' at me? Bullies have been heavy on everyone’s mind lately -- schoolyard bullies, homophobic bullies, bullies smooching Kurt on Glee. As a survivor of years of brutal bullying myself, I joke that I’m never going to send my daughters to school, and then I secretly peer at home-schooling websites when my more-rational husband is not looking. There are anti-bullying curriculums and campaigns that seem to do a lot of good.
But there’s a new anti-bullying strategy in town. And it’s wearing diapers. Yes, it’s true: the best bully-buster might just be … a baby.
A Canadian organization called Roots of Empathy tries to create the skill of empathy, which they found many abusive parents had never learned as children. Over the period of a school year, a baby -- 2 to 4 months old at the beginning of the year -- visits a classroom every month. This is done in classrooms from kindergarten to seventh grade.
The schoolkids gather around the baby and talk about what the baby might be feeling: Scared? Hungry? Happy? Afraid? When the baby is too little to raise his head, the kids lay down on blankets to see what it’s like to see things from his perspective. From this beginning, the students discuss their own feelings and the feelings of their classmates. And they watch and celebrate the baby’s development over time, from loaf-of-bread phase to babbling and crawling by the end of the year.
God, it sounds like such woo-woo hippie bullhockey. But it turns out it really works. I mean, babies have that effect on people -- haven’t you seen it on the bus? Some cranky old fart melts into a puddle of goo because your babe smiles at him? Even 12-year-old toughies start singing nursery rhymes, and in long-term studies, the kids in these classes develop more empathy for each other. Eighty-eight percent of kids who had been identified as bullies stopped behaving that way (as opposed to 9 percent of the same kind of kids in a control group). More subtle forms of bullying, like gossiping and shunning, also decreased. And the effects have been proven to last for years.
Researchers think it might be oxytocin, the “bonding hormone” that we get bucketfuls of when we nurse. I don’t know if I buy that. Can’t it just be that a little gentleness goes a long way? The greatest thing to happen to me and my stepkids was our mutual celebration of my babies.
I don’t think this is a catch-all solution. After all, my worst bully came from a family of eight. I’m sure it has more to do with the specific curriculum than just being around a baby. But isn’t it nice to know that it’s a proven fact that your little bundle of joy really is a bundle of joy?
Do you think spending time with babies, imagining how they feel, can pull bullies away from bad behavior? Tell us in the comments!
Image via Neeta Lind/Flickr