Teaching Empathy and Mindfulness | Mix It Up

Tools are on-hand to help children cope and thrive, socially and emotionally, and combat hateful and bullying behavior.

Chances are, if you’re an educator or school media specialist, you’ve learned many techniques for combating hateful and bullying behavior in school. One method in particular has stepped to the forefront of these educational tactics: social emotional learning, or SEL. But what is it?

Social emotional learning can be described as the development of skills that help children cope and thrive, socially and emotionally. It fosters empathy, understanding, and resilience and offers a way for educators and librarians to teach children and teens how to relate positively to one another. Part of the mission of SEL techniques is to get beyond simplistic understandings of victims and bullies.

As adults, we all have some preconceived notions about why people participate in bullying. It’s important to remember that bullying is a behavior, not a descriptor. Librarians and teachers may want to start by reading Verywell’s “10 Common Myths and Misconceptions About Bullying.”

In recognition of October being National Bullying Prevention Month, we offer the following tools addressing SEL basics; tips for teens, parents, and educators; signs of a healthy friendship; and more.


Bystander Revolution Gr 2 Up–A crowdsourced collection of videos featuring celebrities and teens sharing their thoughts on antibullying techniques. This public service announcement from Bystander Revolution highlights how easy it is to step up, be kind, and make a difference in a stranger’s life and can easily be used in classrooms or programs. TEDx Talks: Empathy Is a Verb Professional–In this TEDx Talk, educational psychologist and author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in an All-About-Me World Michele Borba shares her expertise on how empathy can and should be actively practiced, using several classroom-based programs as examples. EmpathyLabUK All ages–Creators of the first Empathy Day, the Empathy Lab uses literature to foster empathy and social action. It draws on the latest neuroscience research to show that our elastic brains are capable of learning empathy. Keep an eye on this movement.

Games that explore emotions

Cool School: Where Peace Rules K-Gr 3–While the directions are a bit cumbersome at first, this game sets up scenarios where young children can decide on the best course of action when bullying behavior occurs. This would best be used with an adult to aid in the navigation. It could also easily be used scene-by-scene in the classroom to encourage discussions with groups of children. Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings iOS iPad, Amazon, Google Play; Free PreS –Based on the hit PBS show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, this app features a suite of games and activities that help preschoolers express their feelings and recognize the outward signs of emotion in others. From a fun photo booth to sing-a-longs that help kids practice expressing emotions, the app’s activities encourage emotional awareness and respect. Twelve Games To Teach Students Social Emotional Learning Gr 1 Up–The games here are divided into four types: practicing kindness, building community, teaching conflict resolution, and developing cooperation. Presented by Playworks, a group that leverages play as an essential piece of the school experience, these games (instructions for setup are included in the descriptions) can easily be used in library and school settings. Some of the more action-oriented activities are best suited for outdoors or a spacious area.

Antibullying and SEL online resources

The Aspen Institute: The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development Professional–The Aspen Institute brings together scholars, governmental experts, and the private sector to examine and discuss what makes for successful learning environments. The gold mine of this site, however, is the resource page. The site is filled with case studies, output from conferences, and ample background literature. Educators, librarians, and parents will find great arguments for the inclusion of social emotional learning within the walls of educational institutions. Teaching Students To Prevent Bullying: Curriculum Resources Professional–The National Education Association provides lesson plans, activities, games, quizzes, books, and more for teachers in grades K to 12. Organized by age and subject, the lesson plans can also be browsed by month to coordinate thematically with nationally recognized holidays or months. StopBullying.gov Professional–Situated as a one-stop access point for all U.S. government information on bullying topics, this is an incredibly in-depth site. Most notable is the Bullying Prevention Training Course, a 1.5-hour online training that enables certified health education specialists and others to receive continuing education credits. Facebook’s Bullying Prevention Hub Professional–No fewer than 49 global heavyweights (including UNICEF, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, and the International Bullying Prevention Association) participated in the creation of Facebook’s 13-plus-page antibullying guide. The collaborative effort pays off, and the guide serves as a comprehensive overview for approaching bullying and cyberbullying behavior as well as creating a safe environment for victims. Much of the information is material that most educators are likely familiar with, but it’s still worth browsing.

Social media support

Rethink iOS and Android; Free Gr 9 Up–Created by American teenager Trisha Prabu, this award-winning app gets teens to slow down before hitting the send button. Using context filtering software and an alternate keyboard, the app prompts users to pause before sending potentially harmful content, and, according to the creator, 93 per­cent of messages are not sent in their original form. Available for free for parents, schools, kids, and law enforcement agencies.

Empathy through books

Bank Street College of Education: Social & Emotional Learning Through Literature Professional–Well-organized and researched, New York City’s Bank Street College of Education offers two sets of themed book lists to support librarians. The lists—one on “Acceptance, Fitting In, and Identity” and one on “Bullying/Teasing”—are broken into two age groups (children eight and younger, and books for children nine and up) and include a short description of each book’s highlights and themes. New York Times: “You Can’t Teach Empathy, but These Picture Books Inspire It” Professional –Author R.J. Palacio (of Wonder fame) offers thoughts on and descriptions of five new picture books that aim to inspire empathy among the preschool set. Common Sense Media: Books That Teach Empathy Professional –The folks at Common Sense Media have curated a list of picture books, chapter books, and novels that have core themes of empathy.
Stacy Dillon is the lower school librarian at LREI in Manhattan; Amy Laughlin is the youth services outreach librarian at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT.
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