Jul 09, 2013


Roots of Empathy is a school-based program targeting students in kindergarten through eighth grade. A parent and infant visit classrooms along with a certified instructor who uses the parent-infant interaction as a basis for teaching the children about empathy and other aspects of social-emotional development, such as attachment, emotions, and social inclusion. The program is designed to decrease physical and indirect aggression and increase pro-social behavior. A randomized control trial found that ROE impacted all three outcomes immediately following the intervention when teacher-reported data were used, but few impacts were found when student-reported data were considered.


Target population: School children in kindergarten through 8th grade

Roots of Empathy (ROE) is a classroom-based program that aims to raise the social-emotional competence and empathy of school-age children through a structured, age-appropriate curriculum delivered at the classroom-level by certified instructors. The curriculum consists of 27 sessions that allow students to observe real parent-infant interactions and teaches the concepts of early brain development, attachment, temperament, reading emotional cues, labeling and communicating thoughts and feelings, and social inclusion. ROE is based on the theory that when children are able to identify their own and others’ emotions, they will increase their pro-social skills, including empathy, decrease their aggression, and ultimately prevent violence. Specifically, ROE seeks to impact the following outcomes: physical aggression (including threatening violence), indirect aggression (e.g., trying to get others to dislike someone), and pro-social behaviors (e.g., inviting others to join a game). The curriculum is not available for purchase, but is leased to instructors upon completing the training process for as long as the instructor delivers the program.


Santos, R.G., Chartier, M.J., Whalen, J.C., Chateau, D., & Boyd, L. (2011). Effectiveness of School-Based Violence Prevention for Children and Youth. Healthcare Quarterly, 14, 80-91.

Evaluated population: Eight school divisions in Manitoba, Canada were stratified by grade (kindergarten, grade 4, grade 8) and randomly assigned to the treatment group or wait-list control group.  The treatment group consisted of five school divisions, for a total of 17 schools, 24 classrooms, and 445 students. The wait-list control group had three school divisions, with a total of 10 schools, 12 classrooms, and 315 students. At baseline, data were collected from children and teachers pertaining to children’s physical aggression, indirect aggression, and pro-social behavior. No data were reported describing children’s sociodemographic characteristics, but the participating schools were all part of Manitoba’s public school system.

Approach: The schools from the eight school divisions interested in ROE were cluster-randomized into treatment (n=5) or wait-list control (n=3). Before randomization, each school division selected classrooms and stratified those classrooms across three grade levels (kindergarten, grade 4, and grade 8) to ensure an equal representation across grades in the final sample. The primary outcomes–physical aggression, indirect aggression, and pro-social behavior—were measured by teacher-report and student-report. At baseline, the teacher-reported outcomes were significantly different between treatment and control groups; the treatment group children were rated lower on physical aggression and indirect aggression, and higher on pro-social behavior, than their control group peers. According to the child-reported data, however, there were no baseline differences between treatment and control groups for any of the three outcomes. The researchers used multi-level modeling to account for three levels of variability: within-student change over time, between-student differences based on gender, and between group differences based on treatment condition and grade level.

Results: It is important to note that teacher ratings and student ratings were not highly correlated (Pearson r = 0.30, 0.20, and 0.28 for physical aggression, indirect aggression, and pro-social behavior, respectively). Using the teacher-reported data at the immediate follow-up data collection, ROE had a significant positive impact on all outcomes (reducing physical aggression [effect size = -0.25] and indirect aggression [effect size = -0.51)] and increasing pro-social behavior [effect size = 0.21]). However, these results were non-significant for the student-reported data, although in the expected direction for indirect aggression (effect size = -0.20, p = 0.07). Three years following implementation of ROE, no additional impacts were found, regardless of the data source (teacher or student). Teacher-reported outcomes were maintained for physical and indirect aggression after three years, but the gains in pro-social behavior found immediately following ROE were beginning to decline (pro-social behavior differences between treatment and control from post-test through three-year follow-up, effect size = -0.12, p < 0.01).



Santos, R.G., Chartier, M.J., Whalen, J.C., Chateau, D., & Boyd, L. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based violence prevention for children and youth. Healthcare Quarterly, 14, 80-91.


Contact Information

Roots of Empathy

250 Ferrand Drive, Suite 800

Toronto, ON

Canada, M3C 3G8


KEYWORDS: Children, Adolescents, Elementary, Middle School, Males and Females, Aggression, Bullying, Social Skills/Life Skills, School-Based

Program information last updated on 07/09/13. 

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