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Bullying Prevention in Schools Starts with Social-Emotional Learning

Dec 15, 2016, 10:17:27
By Committee for Children
Bullying has been acknowledged as a problem in schools for several decades. Recent media attention to the issue has thrust bullying into the forefront of many legislators’, educators’, and parents’ minds. In response to media attention and heightened concern on the part of lawmakers, educators, and families, research in this field has been burgeoning as well.
Effective bullying prevention requires a multi-pronged effort. School staffs need to have appropriate policies and procedures in place and need to know the right way to work with students involved in bullying. But another critically important part of tackling the problem is focusing on developing the social-emotional skills of children. These skills enable children to be socially competent citizens within the school environment and help build an overall positive climate within the school. Attention to these skills will support the development of healthier, happier children who are ready to learn and contribute to a safer environment.

Why Do Schools Need to Act?

Although bullying can occur anywhere, most reported bullying happens in school. Bullying can greatly affect the school environment and hinder students’ academic success. Bullying can lower academic achievement, influence school attendance, and even contribute to higher dropout rates. And remember, academic achievement is lower for all students involved in bullying: those who are victimized, those who bully, and those who witness bullying.
Many schools recognize the need to address bullying. They have developed and put into place policies and procedures that outline actions to take against it and have trained their staff in how to respond effectively to reports of bullying. These efforts at the adult level are important and necessary in setting the groundwork for promoting a safe and positive climate for students.
However, more needs to be done to effect change in students’ behaviors. Focusing on student behavior not only affects healthy development of the individual, it will also contribute to an overall positive school environment.

What Can Schools Do?

Several bullying prevention programs exist. However, schools need to be careful about which program they adopt. Some programs are not supported by research evidence that they are effective in dealing with bullying. Research is clear that the best approach to bullying prevention is a comprehensive effort that addresses factors at the school, staff, and child level.
Victims of bullying tend to be socially withdrawn and lack positive self-concepts. Bystanders often report feeling guilt and helplessness for not standing up for a peer who is being bullied and often do not intervene for fear of retaliation. Given the social nature of bullying, a key component in combating this behavior is to focus on changing bullying norms and increasing the social-emotional competence of students.
Therefore schools should focus on social emotional learning (SEL) skills as part of their efforts to deal with bullying issues. SEL involves “the systematic development of a core set of social and emotional skills that help children more effectively handle life challenges and thrive in both their learning and their social environments.” Research-based curricula that teach social-emotional competence help create physically and emotionally safe school environments and even increase students’ scores on standardized achievement tests.

How Does SEL Help Prevent Bullying?

One component of being empathic is feeling or understanding what someone else is feeling. This skill has been found to help prevent bullying. Greater awareness of others’ feelings not only allows students to treat each other with respect and kindness, it may cause them to intervene in bullying situations as well. Empathic concern toward peers makes bystanders more likely to intervene to stop bullying.
Emotion management is the ability to monitor and regulate strong emotions and calm down when upset. Lack of emotion management may make a student more prone to being bullied. In fact, research finds that students tend to be more victimized by their peers if they are hyperactive, exhibit emotional outbursts, or are emotionally unstable.
Exacerbating the problem is that nearly half of children who are bullied tend to escalate and intensify the bullying by responding with highly emotional reactions, such as yelling, screaming, or crying.
Good emotion management not only prevents children from becoming victims of bullying, it also helps them respond to it more effectively. In addition, research has shown that students are more likely to bully others if they lack emotion-management skills. Teaching emotion-management skills, then, helps not only students who are bullied, but those who bully as well.
Social problem solving is the ability to successfully navigate through social problems and challenges. Children who are good social problem solvers can recognize a problem, reflect on possible solutions, and understand consequences to a particular action. It’s no surprise that this skill is important in managing peer challenges and responding in thoughtful ways.

The Key to Prevention

Bullying is a pervasive problem in our nation’s schools. It has significant consequences for all involved: children who are bullied, children who bully, and children who witness bullying. Teaching social-emotional competence has been found to be an important ingredient in effective bullying prevention that also supports children’s healthy development.
Social-emotional skills are key components in tackling the bullying problem. Social-emotional learning skills help all those involved in bullying and can be easily adopted into school curricula. Teaching these skills not only promotes a safe and positive climate within schools, it creates healthy children who are ready to learn.