This study examines the effects of the Roots of Empathy (ROE) program on children’s social-emotional competence. ROE is a theoretically derived universal preventive program that focuses on decreasing children’s aggression and facilitating the development of their social-emotional understanding and prosocial behaviors. The program has as its cornerstone monthly visits by an infant and his/her parent(s) that serve as a springboard for lessons on emotion understanding, perspective taking, caring for others, and infant development. The study included a quasi-experimental control-group pretest–posttest, multi-informant design with 585 4th- to 7th-grade children from 28 classrooms. Outcome measures included self-reports of understanding of infant distress, empathy, and perspective taking, and peer and teacher reports of prosocial and aggressive behaviors. Measures assessing implementation were also included. Children in the ROE intervention classrooms showed significant improvement across several of the domains assessed: self-reports of causes for infant crying, peer nominations of prosocial behaviors, and teacher reports of proactive and relational aggression. Self-reported empathy and perspective taking showed no significant changes. According to ROE instructors’ diaries assessing implementation, students in the experimental condition were exposed to all or most of the ROE curriculum. These findings support and extend recent research examining the positive impacts of classroom-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs on children’s social development and behavioral adjustment.
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The use of multilevel modeling (MLM)—analyzing data at the level of the classroom—was inappropriate due to the small classroom sample size in this study. As recommended by Raudenbusch (1997), a sample size of at least 40 clusters (e.g., classrooms, schools) needs to be given in order to achieve satisfactory statistical power in classroom-based program evaluation using MLM. Hence, analyses were conducted at the level of the individual (i.e., child), rather than at the classroom level. Although methodological research has indicated that significance levels resulting from individual level analyses where a program was implemented at the level of the classroom may be overstated (e.g., Donner & Klar, 2000), it has also supported the notion that effect sizes remain unbiased (Raudenbusch & Bryk, 2002).
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This research was supported by grants from the University of British Columbia Hampton Research Fund and the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) to the first author. The authors wish to express their thanks to the numerous school staff and administrators who helped make this project possible and especially to the children and their teachers for their participation in this project.
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Schonert-Reichl, K.A., Smith, V., Zaidman-Zait, A. et al. Promoting Children’s Prosocial Behaviors in School: Impact of the “Roots of Empathy” Program on the Social and Emotional Competence of School-Aged Children. School Mental Health 4, 1–21 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-011-9064-7
- Primary prevention
- Social and emotional competence
- Prosocial and aggressive behaviors
- School-aged children