I’m excited to be presenting this week at the International Bullying Prevention Association Conference in Chicago. It’s a chance to meet old friends and to feel part of the growing movement to make childhood bully-free. This year’s focus is on young children and kindness. It’s spot on – the best ways to end bullying are by teaching kindness along with other core social and emotional skills in pre-school and kindergarten.
Teaching kindness to young children is like pushing at an open door. Children are hardwired for empathy from the first years of life. It allows them to sense the feelings of their parents and other close adults around them. By the second or third year of life, with their emerging capacity to distinguish between self and other, most children actively want to be helpful. Thus, their journey to becoming kind human beings begins.
Our work at No Bully confronts us with the darker side of life and the fundamental questions of human nature. Are humans essentially good or are we self-centered and aggressive? I often tell the old Cherokee story of the two wolves, which dramatizes how the lives of children can go down two very different paths – the path of wounded pride or the path of kindness. The story reminds us that there is a wolf of kindness and compassion inside each of us. We just need to feed it.
Neuroscience reinforces the message of the old Cherokee – empathy and kindness can be taught. But it also sets a timetable. Our social brain – our template for how we relate to others – is impressionable, but it is most malleable before the age of seven or eight. If we want to head off bullying and aggression, we are wise to do this in pre-school and the early years of primary education.
The best early educators already know this. Much of their time is spent creating the conditions that support the growth of kindness. They teach perspective-taking, the cognitive ability of a young child to step into another’s shoes, through exploring characters in stories and through role-playing. They use situations where a child has hurt another as an opportunity to explore how the other is feeling. Children who can figure out what others feel and think are less likely to get involved in conflicts. Above all the best educators radiate kindness in how they treat their young students.
At No Bully, we are passionate about teaching young children the skills and values that they need for a connected world. We believe that this is one of the best ways to eradicate bullying before it begins. On Friday I’ll be presenting on the Power of Zero campaign that No Bully launched with UNESCO, Microsoft, Facebook and Hasbro in the UNICEF building in New York earlier this year. Power of Zero defines twelve core skills that every child needs in this digital age. Check out the campaign website and download lessons and videos for teaching the Power of Kindness.
Kindness can be taught and it is critical that we do. As Nelson Mandela wrote in his Long Walk to Freedom “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Nicholas Carlisle is a keynote speaker, lawyer and psychotherapist leading change to eradicate bullying and cyberbullying worldwide. He is the founder of No Bully and the Power of Zero campaign.