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Three Figures Game

Fight against harassment

To be continued :
Game guide
It pains me when I play the victim, so I think of something funny.
Francisco, 9 years old
Empathies modified by the J3F
Empathy and NE
Teachers' words
Prevent harassment


Imagine a boat as children draw: the hull, the passenger cabins, and everything above the chimney.

direct empathy is represented by the hull of the boat. All boats indeed have a hull, and all humans have this ability to a greater or lesser extent. It is constituted in four stages: emotional empathy which allows from one year of age to recognize the emotion of the other, and by responding to it, to create emotional sharing; concern for others, which develops from the age of two; cognitive empathy which is based on the theory of mind, and allows you to understand, from the age of three or four, that the other is different from you; finally, the control of emotions which allows, from the age of eight-nine, to intentionally and emotionally put oneself in the place of the other by changing emotional perspective. This dimension of empathy is a conscious process that requires support and encouragement, particularly during adolescence.

Self-empathy (or empathy for oneself) is also part of the "shell" because its construction follows the same steps as the construction of direct empathy. It consists of identifying one's own emotions and psychic states, accepting them and giving them meaning.

mutual empathy is represented by the deck and the passenger cabins. It corresponds to the way in which a person recognizes in another what he recognizes for himself, both in the areas of self-esteem, the right to love and be loved, and citizenship rights. . It holds the key to the moral sense.

Intersubjective empathy is represented by the chimney. When she smokes, the boat is moving forward! It consists of recognizing in others the possibility of usefully informing me about aspects of myself that are still unknown to me, of discovering myself, and of moving forward. She could well hold the key to happiness...

Empathies modified by the J3F

J3F strengthens emotional empathy

The J3F helps to promote the identification of facial expressions corresponding to basic emotions. Indeed, the departure ritual which invites children to act out simple emotions allows each child to take the time to align themselves with those of their comrades, and to discover in their eyes the fact that they have succeeded. (see “Mimics”).

J3F strengthens cognitive empathy

The children are invited not only to mime emotions in the preparatory phase, but also to name those that are experienced by the different protagonists, such as joy, anger, fear or sadness, as well as the more moral one of guilt. . In general, the naming of the intentions of the different protagonists during the construction of the scenario makes it possible to better understand the mental states of the other. This characteristic is reinforced by the fact that, in the game itself, each action is accompanied by words that make sense.

The J3F reinforces the change of emotional perspective

This ability is reinforced by the fact that each child is invited to change their point of view as they change roles. This change of point of view is also spontaneously materialized by the children, who come to place themselves in the space where the previous ones stood. For example, if an aggressor first places himself against the window and his victim on the side of the door, when they change roles, experience shows that the one who first played the role of victim will take on the role of the aggressor by going to stand near the window. The change in emotional perspective is also illustrated by another observation. Experience has shown that children develop strategies of support towards each other within the framework of the J3F. Thus the “prompters” compensate for the memorization difficulties of their comrades. And in the class welcoming an autistic child without language, he was able to play while another lent him his voice.

J3F strengthens self-empathy

The J3F often stages situations of tension or aggression in which the victim never remains silent and expresses his protest. This rule aims to allow children to no longer allow themselves to be mistreated without protesting. This ability contributes to the construction of self-empathy, in other words the ability to identify one's own emotions and to help oneself by expressing them (“Ouch! You hurt me!”). Let us also not forget that a victim more easily reports an attack to a third party (a teacher, an educator, a psychologist or a doctor) when she has first reported it to her attacker himself.

J3F strengthens emotional control and executive skills

At each phase of the game: wait for your turn to speak, listen to comrades' proposals, remember the previous stages of the scenario to construct new ones, adapt your proposals to those of others to allow collaborative construction, etc.

The J3F strengthens reciprocal empathy

When each child is invited to adopt the point of view of the other by taking on his role, he at the same time abandons the role he has just played to another child. He thus stages the fact of accepting that the other takes his place.

The J3F does not act on intersubjective empathy

This last component of empathy is not modified by the J3F since no child is invited to make comments on the attitudes of the other participants, and the professionals running the game also prohibit it.

Empathy and NE

The construction of empathy is valued in the Health Educational Path established by the Ministry of National Education for the attention of teaching and educational teams. It finds its place alongside attention to others and involvement in joint work, self-awareness and the management of stress and emotions (appendix 2, pages 23-24).

Teachers' words

“This Game is really revealing of the relationships and interactions between children. »

Marie Christine F., kindergarten teacher.

“There are far fewer fights and verbal abuse both in the classroom and in the yard. »

Roseline L., teacher in CM1.

“I realized that the students knew how to organize themselves better than I thought! Now, I leave them more initiative in the class. »

Clara J., teacher in CM2.

“The shyest children have gained confidence and dare to come see the teacher when they are bothered. »

Céline K., teacher in CM1.

“I see the children who are starting to talk to each other. »

Eric B., teacher in CE2.

“Overall, we can say that the class climate is more peaceful and that the rules of life are better internalized. »

Dominique N., CP teacher.

“I don't know to what extent the 3FG makes students change, but for me, it has led me to see my students differently, and to trust them more! »

Laurence S., teacher in CM2.

“When there is a conflict in court, dialogue becomes a tool, and the vocabulary changes. »

Flore M., teacher in CM2.

“Two students who did not dare to speak have significantly changed their position in the group: they now dare to assert themselves, or even oppose some of their classmates. They took up an entire place in the class. »

Mireille G., teacher in CM1.

“A difficult student who withdraws into himself has a more calm, less anxious attitude (he no longer soliloquizes...) especially since he was able to talk to his teacher (at the end of March) about the pressure than another student in the class had been working on him for over a month. »

Pascale L., CP teacher.

“A student who, in the class, displays the image of a “tough guy” surprised himself by worrying about the fate of the victim during the game in which he was the aggressor! »

Jacky M., 6th grade teacher.

“Students told me that this activity strengthens cohesion between them: “Sometimes we are not always together, we are not nice to others”, “Here, we play together, with others”, “We have a project together, like the webdoc.” »

Hélène H., teacher in CM2.

Prevent harassment

Against harassment, let's develop a classroom dynamic that invites each child to express themselves through curiosity and mutual respect. [1]

By Serge Tisseron

Creator of Three figures game, author in particular of: Empathy at the heart of social gaming, and of Empathy and manipulation, the pitfalls of compassion (Albin Michel).

Empathy first developed in mother-baby relationships to ensure the survival of the species, and it later became significantly complicated in humans with the development of language and various social norms. But it remains rooted in emotional communication and the role played in psychological and social construction by various forms of interactions. It is accepted today that it combines four components. Emotional empathy, which develops from the first months, allows us to validly understand the emotional states of others based on the emotional signals they express, and to also be aware of our own emotional states. Concern for others, which begins to manifest itself from two years of age, motivates behavioral responses to help humans in distress or need. Cognitive empathy, which develops from 3-4 years old, allows us to understand that the other has a mental life different from mine and to take into account cultural as well as individual parameters. Finally, the proper use of these skills requires being able to regulate one's emotions and direct them according to specific objectives. Each of these skills follows its own development, but each is also in permanent interaction with the others in such a way that they influence each other, exactly as biological and environmental determinants contribute together to the child's development.

The central role of emotional control

Of all these factors, the most important seems to be the control of emotions which develops from the age of 3-4. This expression refers to a set of processes that allow a person to manage the duration and intensity of the emotions they experience in such a way that they run less risk of being overwhelmed by emotional excitement. Better voluntary control of emotions makes it possible to resolve conflicts using non-hostile verbal methods rather than aggressive methods. And it also allows you to better direct your emotions towards a goal. If this person is driven by concern for others and encouraged by the environment, this skill allows them to adopt intentionally, and no longer just intellectually, the point of view of others. This attitude makes it easier to express concern for the distress and needs of others as well as helpful behaviors towards them. It has also been shown that the control of emotions is positively correlated with concern for others and the capacity for empathic manifestations.[2].

Empathy cannot be taught, but it can be learned

The growing awareness of violence and harassment between students is now mobilizing the government, and that is good. Empathy is rightly seen as an antidote. Should we therefore “teach” it? The word is ambiguous if we imagine this teaching as that of history or mathematics. It has also been shown that “empathy courses” have almost no impact on emotional empathy, very weak effects on cognitive empathy, and that these effects also last for a very short time. But the method Fri For Mobberi practiced in Denmark is a much more global method than a few hours of dedicated lessons. It is focused on creating a group dynamic that invites each child to express themselves, to present their point of view, with curiosity and mutual respect. Because if empathy cannot be taught, it can be learned. Indeed, if children do not acquire prosocial behaviors passively by listening to their benefits, they can build them through collective commitments.

The method Fri For Mobberi was created in 2007, the year in which the first violence prevention programs in schools were launched in France through the Three Figures Game, first in kindergarten at the Versailles academy, then in cycles 2 and 3, and since 2022, in cycle 4 at the Paris academy with a protocol adapted to the age of the students. The two methods are apparently very different since J3F is an activity inspired by theatrical play centered on the figures of the aggressor, the victim and the third party, the latter being able to be a simple witness, righter of wrongs or rescuer. But in both cases, the central work focuses on the importance given to prevention starting from the middle section of kindergarten, the development of language, the understanding and control of emotions, the common culture developed through shared activities, and the importance of each person's expression with mutual respect. With, in the J3F, particular importance given to situations through play, in order to establish behavioral reflexes, starting with the ability, from a very young age, to be able to say “no”.

Against harassment, empathy is not enough

Empathetic competence alone is insufficient to allow the victim to protest, just as it is insufficient for witnesses to intervene. Moving from empathy to action requires a sense of personal responsibility and awareness of the need to act, including when this involves protesting against the established order. In short, it takes courage. Empathetic competence leads us to feel sorry for the suffering of others, but it is not sufficient for us to commit ourselves to their behalf. The inaction of the witness is often less a lack of empathy than a fear of differentiating himself from his group. Then, of course, he is capable of inventing many reasons to justify his inaction, which range from “I wouldn't have thought it was serious…” to “I didn't think I had a responsibility to intervene because…” . But these various forms of denial should not hide from us that it is always the fear of imposing oneself as different and of facing possible condemnation by one's peers that is at issue. This is why it is important to teach children respect for others, but also for themselves, and to give them language elements so that they are able to protest as soon as they feel mistreated. And also to allow them to intervene in situations of aggression by ensuring that no one feels attacked or misunderstood.

An educational revolution

But, in these programs, let us also not forget the responsibility of adults: we cannot aim to develop the empathy of students if we do not concern ourselves with the empathy of teachers. But she too is affected by the activities proposed. The weekly time of the method Fri For Mobberi and the 45 minutes devoted each week to the Game of Three Figures must be considered as a learning space as much for the students, in the construction of their collaborative skills and their concern for mutual aid, as for the teachers. They must be clearly informed that it is a question of giving more room for the expression of emotions in their students and of encouraging their collaborative skills, but also of developing their own capacities for reflexivity on their interactions with them and to change their outlook on their self-regulation capacities.

But this is precisely all that has ever been taught to them, let alone asked. So as not to give teachers the impression that the tools that we are going to offer them to use “to fight against harassment” increase their workload and are not congruent with what they have been taught so far, we must put student expression and collaborative work at the center of all teaching, and not just one hour per week. It is more than a patch to limit the expression of violence, it is an educational revolution.

However, let us not underestimate the difficulties: collaborative work and the promotion of student expression is far from being as widespread in France as in Denmark. There is a tradition in Scandinavian countries that pushes children to express themselves, to discover themselves and to integrate. The French school is still very vertical. The scale of the obstacles requires planning this development over a long period of time. We cannot explain empathy to teachers so that they can explain it to their students. But we can invite volunteer teachers to experience it first in shared activities so that they can then continue to discover it in a different relationship with their students, for the greater good of both.

[1] A short version of this text appeared in The world from Saturday October 7, 2023.

[2] Rothbart, M.K., Ahadi, S.A., & Hershey, K.L. (1994). Temperament and social behavior in childhood. Merrill-Palmer US Quarterly, 40, 21-39.