For the purposes of this study, the definition of empathy was adapted from two core competencies developed by CASEL (CASEL, 2017). Empathy was operationalized as the ability to (a) take perspectives of others, (b) relate to others’ experiences regardless of differing backgrounds or cultures, and to (c) create and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with other group members. Examples of empathic behavior included (a) listening to others, (b) accurately reading others’ emotions, (c) showing concern for other group members, (d) communicating with others, (e) cooperating with others, (f) resisting inappropriate social pressure, and (g) seeking and offering help when needed.

The first four group sessions (baseline phase) consisted of engaging in simple arts projects and subsequent discussions about the art produced. Art projects lasted anywhere from 15 to 20 min, followed by discussion of the art produced for the remaining time (45 min total per session). During the baseline phase, group discussion of produced art revolved around general observations as well as narrations of individual work.

The intervention phase restructured the baseline discussion-based sessions and consisted of five sessions. Once weekly 45-min sessions were held during which the intervention was implemented. During the intervention phase, group leaders used explicit behavioral instruction, including roleplays, to teach each target behavior that focused on empathy development. These target behaviors included showing one is listening to others (eyes and ears on the speaker), reading others’ emotions (“you seem sad”), displaying concern for group members (“are you okay?”), communicating and cooperating (speaking calmly to reach a goal), considering others’ perspectives (nodding while others are talking), and seeking and offering help. Two target behaviors were taught each session. Learned target behaviors were reinforced before introducing new skills in subsequent sessions. Children then engaged in 15–20 min of art activity and/or creation. Arts activities included painting, sculpting, dance, music, photography, collage, mixed media, and drawing. Following the art activity and/or creation, children participated in discussions that were led by the group leader (a trained, doctoral-level researcher). A sample “Creating Compassion” intervention session is provided in Appendix A.

Prompts varied in art medium on a session-by-session basis. Discussions required children to present their work to the group and give a verbal description of this work as it related to the prompt and the session’s target behaviors. These discussions aimed to target children’s listening skills and interpersonal understanding and provide opportunities to practice the learned skills.

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