School wide SEL to Prevent Bullying

What are the social-emotional skills that can that work against the impulse to harass or exclude? What about the skills that build a predisposition toward empathy and compromise?

Developmental psychologist Stephanie Jones, whose lab explores the impact of high-quality social-emotional interventions, helped us trace the connections between SEL and bullying prevention.

Which social-emotional skills help children accept peers who are different from them?

They need empathy and perspective-taking skills, but those begin with a basic understanding of the emotions of self and others. This basic understanding of their emotions will enable children to think about a situation from multiple sides and imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.

Which skills do children need to recognize and stand up to harassment or teasing?

Children need several things: awareness, knowledge, and skills that enable them to recognize hurtful words and actions or to identify unfairness and conflict; and strategies that help them identify what they see and resolve arguments or discriminatory situations. Basic awareness and practice with conflict resolution strategies can help children know what to do when they see these situations.

Schools can help develop both of these skills by creating a schoolwide culture that has clear norms and expectations. For example, a school should be very explicit and concrete about (1) what bullying behavior and discrimination looks like, (2) that it is not allowed in the building, and (3) what children should do when they see it.

What are some classroom practices that can help build these skills?

To build awareness of emotions: Have a “Feelings Tree” in the classroom (or in a more public place, such as the cafeteria or playground). Encourage kids to talk about the complex feelings that can arise during the day such as jealousy, frustration, anger, prejudice and injustice.

To build empathy and perspective-taking: Engage in simple exercises like asking children what it might be like to stand in another person’s shoes. These questions can help them understand, appreciate, and respect the perspectives, beliefs, needs, wants, and feelings of other people. Encourage kids to be “feelings detectives” and try to figure out how a character in a book is feeling.

To build conflict-resolution skills: Teach young children (as early as preschool) simple ways to share and take turns. These lessons help create a basic toolbox for responding to conflict in proactive and positive ways. Older children (first- to fourthgraders) can learn a larger set of conflict resolution strategies, such as how to compromise, how to decide when to walk away, and how to communicate through conflict. In our SECURe project, we teach elementary students a process called the Peace Path, which involves students telling each other how they feel, brainstorming solutions, and together choosing a strategy, trying it out, and reflecting on the outcome.