NAFOL profile: Kari Nergaard

This PhD project aims to increase kindergartens’ knowledge of how to work to support children`s empathy development as a preventive factor against bullying. The project is based on other research in the field of aggression and bullying where it appears that the bully has a stronger degree of proactive aggression and a lower degree of empathy (Bandura, 1983; Dodge, 1991; Roland and Idsøe, 2001 and Roland, 2007). Measures intended to support children’s empathy development will have a preventive effect against bullying and other aggressive behavior, and they have a positive effect on both the individuals and the social environment (Roland and Idsøe, 2001; Roland and Vaaland, 2003; Alsaker and Nägele; 2008 and Tremblay, 2010). Social positioning occurs in most groups and can in some cases cause negative situations that may be driven by unsafe affiliation in groups and fear of exclusion. According to Søndergaard (2012), when this anxiety is projected in order to reject others, and the empathy for the rejected is being shut out, bullying happens. Bullying is a social phenomenon occurring in groupings with unsafe affiliation and asymmetric relationships, and is grounded in the individual characteristics of those involved (Roland, 2007). Such negative social positioning can we already see in kindergarten. It can be emphasized that the kindergarten’s role in preventing bullying is to early identify children with social vulnerabilities and incipient bullying behavior, and implement measures that will strengthen children’s social skills and empathic development. However, today there is a lack of knowledge of how kindergartens through educational work can prevent bullying. Knowledge of how empathy is expressed in 3-year-olds’ interaction will increase knowledge about how kindergarten staff can work with children interacting and building relationships to support the individual’s empathy development and contribute to an empathic environment. Child relationships are an important development arena, and the social experiences children receive will have significance for further psychosocial development. The child’s ability to positive assertiveness and empathy will be significant factors to be able to function well in social relationships and to engage in play and interaction with peers (Bukowski & Abecassis, 2013). It will therefore be important that the work preventing bullying starts early and that kindergarten staff support the children’s empathy development through recognizing their empathic actions and positively reinforce them.

This study will contribute to increased knowledge about young children’s own empathic actions as they appear in play and interaction.

Qualitative Methodology

Through an ethnographic study with participant observation, video observation and focus group interviews with the kindergarten teaching staff, I will gather data that illustrates how empathy and positive self-assertion is expressed between 3-year-olds in their play and interaction. Through a phenomenological and hermeneutic analysis of empirical data and discussions on the basis of my research questions, I will be able to lead reasoning towards the project purpose and contribute to increased knowledge about how kindergartens can work to prevent bullying.


Bullying, prevention of bullying, empathy, assertiveness, educational practice.