Denmark's Empathy Classes are Teaching Kids Not to Bully

Promoting wellbeing in schools.


High school students.

(Monkey Business Images /

Denmark has one of the lowest rates of bullying in schools. But this is something that didn’t happen overnight. Anti-bullying programs were introduced in Danish schools over 15 years ago, according to Euronews, but it is something that has to be constantly updated to meet the changing times.

Programs begin in primary grades where children are taught empathy and how to avoid bullying. At the Sluseholmen Skole school in Copenhagen, meditation and cuddles are part of the morning routine. According to Maja Hindsgaul, a teacher at the school, this is the key to wellbeing.

“I'm the one they can talk to if something is difficult. And I'm actually talking a lot about who I am and what I like, and that it’s ok if they like to hug. I like that too,” she told Euronews. “Of course, they have to learn to read and write and stuff like that, but they can do that if they feel safe. It's my mission to make them feel safe so that they can develop social skills at school.”

Learning how to live with one another is a large part of the anti-bullying programs and this appears to be working well in the younger grades. “We're always trying to get the kids to work together in different types of groups, across genders and not always with their best friends," said teacher Louise Ibsen. “They're also practicing social skills for how to communicate, and also how to compromise on different ideas.”

Teenage Bullying
While bullying rates are lower in Denmark, it is harder to be a teenager now than when the program first began, before the covid-19 pandemic and the isolation of the lockdowns. Social media also made things worse because what happens in school doesn’t stay in school.

We have all age groups calling about bullying, but it seems to be a particular problem for, let's say 10 to 15-year-olds,”  said Rasmus Kjeldahl, the CEO of Børns Vilkår, a Danish children’s rights NGO. “And that's where it's extremely important for a child to belong to a group. The act of bullying is expulsion from the group.”

Bullying has become rampant in schools all around the world, according to denmaekeducation, a guide to education in Denmark. The fear of bullying pushes students to stop attending schools and to consider suicide as a way to escape. In fact, 14 percent of children in high school think about committing suicide and around 7 percent attempt to every year. Gay and lesbian teens are much more likely to be bullied at school.

Our School Strength
A new initiative was rolled out in the 2021/22 school year according to a Mary Foundation news release. Our School Strength is a joint effort from the Mary Foundation, Børns Vilkår, and Save the Children Denmark. The program is the result of four years of research and collaboration by the nonprofit groups.

“Managing bullying is complex, and individual children unfortunately still often end up being scapegoated, despite the fact that most people are aware that bullying and many of the other problems associated with a failure to thrive stem from a counter-productive culture in the class or school, Kjeldahl said in the news release.

“That’s why an important focus of Our School Strength is to strengthen the schools’ and employees’ understanding of the social mechanisms involved and to help them act correctly and quickly when they identify a child who isn’t thriving.” 

This unified program is designed to address bullying up to grade 10 and focuses on students wellbeing and to help the youth feel that they are accepted and play an active role in the community. Anti-bullying programs that teach children empathy for others at a young age, can make a big difference when these students become teenagers.

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