Bullying is undeniably a problem. In the news we see horrible stories of what can happen when children are continually bullied in and outside of school. As a result, we are seeing more and more anti-bullying campaigns. Common Sense Media has a “Stand Up to Cyberbullying Campaign” which provides information for parents of children ranging in age from 2 to 17. Sesame Street has an anti-bullying campaign which features a video of Big Bird being bullied by members of the “Good Birds Club” and discussion suggestions for parents. Organizations like StopBullying.gov and Pacers.org’s National Bullying Prevention Center offer information about identifying bullying behavior and resources and tips for dealing with bullying. These resources and programs are incredibly helpful and are necessary to decrease the recurring issues of bullying we are seeing in schools, playgrounds, and online.
But there is another side of the coin, right? We do need bullying prevention and active resources to help parents and teachers understand and prevent bullying behavior, but isn’t it equally, if not even more important, to institute interventions that encourage children to act with kindness and respect and provide tools to enhance children’s social and emotional learning? A recent meta-analysis (a study that examines multiple studies that are related to the same research question) of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning programs found that social and emotional learning programs do help!
First, what is social and emotional learning? Social-emotional learning is best understood through examples. Being able to make and maintain positive relationships, work out problems with peers, make responsible decisions, communicate clearly and effectively with others, coordinate and adapt your responses and reactions appropriately…. these are all examples of social-emotional development.
The review of 213 studies found that overall students who participate in some sort of Social and Emotional Learning program demonstrated better social and emotional learning skills, attitudes, and positive social behaviors as well as fewer conduct problems and lower levels of emotional problems. By providing students with training in positive social and emotional development, we can increase positive behaviors and decrease negative ones that may be associated with bullying and other aggression actions.
It is National Anti-bullying month and I entirely support the effort to decrease bullying and bring attention to the horrible effects bullying can have. But beyond teaching children how NOT to behave we need to provide them opportunities to practice and learn how TO behave. Encouraging children to act with respect and kindness and helping them to understand how their behaviors can make other people feel is key.
Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405-432.