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10 ways to foster kindness and empathy in kids

Several kids had been targeting Beth for weeks. Beth was sweet, absent-minded, easygoing and resigned to being mistreated. Some of her fellow eighth-grade students were using social media to call her fat and stupid, and they would drop dirty tissues on her head as they passed her desk. As her school counselor, I wanted to help, but Beth would never call out the bullies. She worried she would make the situation worse, and she insisted she was fine.

Beth’s classmate Jenna, however, was so disturbed by the mean behavior that she brought me a handwritten list of the perpetrators and pleaded with me to make them stop. Jenna — a confident, popular student — barely knew Beth, but she couldn’t stand the cruelty. Her discomfort was the one positive in a bad situation. The Jennas are rare; I can’t recall another recent situation when a student so vehemently refused to be a bystander. I knew that it would be difficult to change the kids’ behavior, and that quick solutions, such as detentions and phone calls home, would only give Beth a short-term reprieve.

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