It seems counterintuitive. A bully is tormenting your child every day at school. Why would you encourage your kid to have empathy for him or her?
First, a few definitions:
1. Sympathy: Sharing feelings with someone (you are sad because the bully is sad about the abuse he is experiencing at home).
2. Compassion: Feeling badly for another's misfortune (you feel badly for the bully because of his abuse).
3. Empathy: Intellectually understanding why a person feels and behaves the way he/she does (you understand the bully is sad, angry, and mean because he is experiencing abuse at home).
If you teach your children to be empathic, they will understand why so-called mean kids do what they do. It does not give those kids a free pass, and it does not require your children to pity anyone. But, research shows that kids who are empathic are seen as leaders by their peers and are more assertive. They do better in school (and in work later on), and they better understand how to appropriately confront a school bully. Empathic kids are not pushovers--in fact, they are able to better handle conflict than non-empathic children.