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"There´s nothing so practical as a good theory", Kurt Lewin

THEORY

Literature reports a high prevalence of children and young people involved in bullying situations, either as targets or as perpetrators (Triseliotis et al., 1995; Farmer & Polloc, 1998; Gibbs & Sinclair, 2000).

Being aware of the serious impact that bullying has on young people’s integration and adjustment, it becomes even more worrying when this aggressive behaviour invades their personal space – their homes (Barter, 2003).

One of the identified main causes of the high levels of bullying and violence among peers in residential care settings is often young people´s poor personal and social skills due to their unstable life path, neglectful parental supervision and few significant bonds.

Houses of Empathy has come up with an anti-bullying programme, and its main goal is to promote personal, social and empathy skills.

In order to promote a behaviour change in young people, the programme is based on the transtheoretical behaviour change model of Prochaska (1994). It advocates that the behaviour change only occurs through a step-by-step process of motivation for change. This process is organised in 5 stages: Precontemplation – phase in which the strategies should be focused on raising consciousness; Contemplation – the focus is on developing skills necessary to observe the change; Preparation –developing strategies to accomplish the change; Action –support on the implementation of the strategies mentioned before; and lastly, Maintenance – period in which the main concern is to keep the achieved changes.

Based on the evidence that Empathy acts as an inhibitory of aggressive behaviours, the programme is also structured according the Empathy Model (Preston & Wall, 2002). According to this model, when confronted with another person’s suffering an individual tends to feel the suffering as well but will also to try to end or diminish the suffering of the other person. This kind of response is directly dependent on the familiarity and similarity of the object and the individual, his previous experience with the situation and also with the profusion of received stimuli. By working and reflecting on this issue we expect to promote empathetic responses.

Although it is essential to prevent bullying, it is also important to know how to intervene when bullying episodes take place. In relation to intervention, the programme follows a “No blame approach”. This approach concentrates on identifying the damage bullying behaviour is causing on the target, using the peer group as support. The perpetrators are also included. By the avoidance of blaming or punishment, all the group is encouraged to take responsibility for the problem and to identify strategies to deal with it.

Using this methodology as the starting point, the Houses of Empathy programme is organized in several units, focusing on topics such as Team Building, Communication and Assertiveness, Emotions, and Empathy. Following a logical path, the different sessions in each unit aims to develop several skills, in order to promote healthier relationships among peers and contribute to prevent new episodes of bullying.

These sessions were developed using non-formal education and peer education methodologies, through which the contents are presented to the young people as group dynamics, games and also reflective and sharing moments.