Mindful Empathy for Children

Mindful Empathy for Children

London, United KingdomTo be determined, United Kingdom
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

An approach that views love of oneself and others as the root of empathy.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

As Paul Gilbert writes in his book ‘The Compassionate Mind’ Western societies tend to under-develop the emotional regulation system that empathy stems from. He identifies 3 such systems: 1) threat and self-protection system: linked to anxiety and anger 2) incentive and resource-seeking system: linked to drive and excitement 3) soothing and contentment system: linked to feeling of safeness, reassurance, security, calm peacefulness Secure nurturing relationships are critical for the development of the soothing system. Compassion and empathy tend to be underdeveloped due to these societal conditions: 1)Parents spend less time with children because of longer working hours, 2)Higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression among parents, 3)Technological distractions

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Our solution is to create an 8-week program that will teach mindfulness and self-compassion (SC), both of which have shown to be effective in developing the 'soothing' system. Research has demonstrated mindfulness training can develop empathy, self-regulation, and self-compassion, and that mindfulness can be taught to children. Since children tend to get bored with longer periods of meditation, we decided to combine it with teaching self-compassion separately. We will combine the best of a very engaging program developed by Mindfulness for Schools program and the compassion for children approach developed by Mind with Heart. Outcomes will be measured, the results published using our high profile platform and more funding will be attracted to make the program sustainable.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The proposed 8-week program is still to be developed but will be modelled on exisiting mindfulness in schools programmes.Mindfulness in Schools Programs are taught in a number of countries and have been shown to be effective and engaging. It includes eight sessions lasting up to an hour and home practice. They are taught the theory in a very accessible way that uses games, familiar characters from films and cartoons. Children also meditate for up to 20 minutes per session. Mindfulness and self-compassion foster not only empathy but also other psychological aspects that support empathy: self-regulation, ego-resilience, attention, locus of control, well-being. They also reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. We agree with Kristin Neff that self-compassion is a good alternative to self-esteem. Among other things self-esteem (Baumeister, 2003 ) has also been found to be associated with narcissism, sometimes aggression and in-group favouritism. No negative side effects of self-compassion have been found. In fact, self-compassion has been found to be negatively correlated with submissiveness and positively correlated with empathic perspective taking (Birnie et al., 2009). Since SC includes an element of common humanity, we believe that SC allows children to be kind to themselves and to feel connected to others at the same time. Unlike self-esteem, self-compassion allows regaining a sense of worth on the grounds of connectedness and cooperation, not on competition. This it makes it very good for developing empathy.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Empathy in schools in the UK is nascent, so we don’t see competition as an important issue. The only competing program we're aware of is 'The Roots of Empathy'. It started being taught in the UK a few years ago. This program is well-established and has a strong track record in other countries but is only emerging in the UK. What makes the RSA approach different is that mindfulness and self-compassion training improves not only empathy but also emotional development more generally including awareness of one’s own emotions, managing them, awareness of emotions of others. Our approach addresses a wider set of faculties of EI. Another unique aspect is that this program will teach tools that they will learn to continue working with on their own; mindful self-compassion requires practice.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country

, LND, London

Country where this project is creating social impact

, XX, To be determined

Your role in Education


The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with

Public (tuition-free)

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

How long has your solution been in operation?

Still in idea phase, but looking to launch soon

Now that you have thought out your entry, help us pitch it.
Define your company, program, service, or product in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Positive feelings for others stem from positive feelings for oneself.
We go beyond 'self-esteem' to a deeper form of acceptance.

Identify what is innovative about your solution in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Mindfulness in schools is not new, but linking mindful 'self-compassion' to empathy is powerfully based on the roots of empathy.

Social Impact
What has been the impact of your solution to date?

The solutions have not been implemented yet, but research from the Mindfulness in Schools Project shows that the program has increased students’ self-awareness, self-regulation, self-efficacy and self-determination. It has also increased their well-being, resilience and mindfulness. As it is expected with continued mindfulness practice, effects after 6 months were stronger than immediate effects (Hennelly, 2010).

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

We are planning to run a successful pilot study and use Dream Life Skills Assessment Tool to measure results. Then using relative high profile in the UK we are planning to attract additional funding and get more schools involved with the program. We are planning to get a 50 teachers trained to run the programs in the next 3 years.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

We see two main barriers: aversion to feelings of compassion and funding.
Some people feel averse to feelings of compassion because of two main reasons:
1)Feeling empathy can make them weak or make them vulnerable to others who do not have their interests at heart.
2) It reminds some of a lack of nurturing relationships in their childhood

We will use RSA's excellent public profile to dispel such fears through our written outputs(e.g. on popular blogs, or in related events).

Funding, especially in the time of austerity in UK is a further challenge for issues that appear non-central. We plan to use our relatively high profile, partnerships with schools and foundations to seek further funding, and will liase with RSA Fellows to seek out catalyst funding too.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

We have completed the programme and are beginning to measure results.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Collaborating with our partners create a standardized, evidence-based, engaging and easy to teach 8-week program teaching mindfu

Task 2

Train 10 teachers to deliver the program

Task 3

Measure results of this pilot study

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

We have published our results and are expanding into new iterations with more schools.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Analyse and publish results &

Task 2

Publicity raising and working with partners to gain additional funding

Task 3

Run a second round with 10 more teachers

Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world [125 words]

I had my own aha moment when reading about the Dalai Lama hearing about problems relating to self-esteem for the first time. He had never heard of such a thing! It occurred to me that I am happiest and most productive when at ease with myself, and kind to myself. Such an experience connects you more deeply to the needs of others and makes you more available. It also occurred to me that in the West being self-compassionate is not as prominent a cultural feature as it could be, and that this probably needs to be emphasized more in how we teach mindfulness,
Also, since children cannot meditate as long as adults, it became very clear to me that SC needs to be taught not only through meditation but more generally. Then I got in touch with those teaching mindfulness and SC to children and decided to create a structured programme at scale.

Tell us about your partnerships

• Mind with Heart: a charity in UK that teaches mindfulness, empathy, compassion and self-compassion
• Mindfulness in Schools program: a network of educators who use very engaging programme to teach mindfulness in schools in a number of European countries. They have created an evidence based program called ‘.b’ (Stop and Breathe) and over the last 5 years have trained over 100 people to deliver it.
• RSA Academies and RSA family of schools give us access to places where we can begin our programme.
• Oxford Mindfulness Centre: They do extensive research and design mindfulness programs.

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section? [75 words]

Dr Jonathan Rowson, Director of RSA Social Brain centre will work in collaboration with the RSA Education team and existing contacts.
Dr Emma Lindley, Senior Researcher on Social Brain will help with research and development.
We will convene a steering group, and will have the support of a group of RSA Fellows with experience in practising, teaching and researching mindfulness.
We also have skilled administrative and fundraising support

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

Given the nature of the idea, it will need some trusted figures to support it, and help allay the concern that it is too esoteric or marginal. We believe it is centrally important for childhood development but need effective 'messengers' to get that case across.