Social and Emotional Learning and Bullying Prevention (page 4)
What Is SEL?
SEL is an educational movement gaining ground throughout the world. It focuses on 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. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as the processes through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging social situations constructively.
CASEL has identified five core categories of social and emotional skills:
- Self-awareness—accurately assessing one’s feelings, interests, values, and strengths/ abilities, and maintaining a well-grounded sense of self-confidence
- Self-management—regulating one’s emotions to handle stress, control impulses, and persevere in overcoming obstacles; setting personal and academic goals and then monitoring one’s progress toward achieving them; and expressing emotions constructively
- Social awareness—taking the perspective of and empathizing with others; recognizing and appreciating individual and group similarities and differences; identifying and following societal standards of conduct; and recognizing and using family, school, and community resources
- Relationship skills—establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships based on cooperation; resisting inappropriate social pressure; preventing, managing, and resolving interpersonal conflict; and seeking help when needed
- Responsible decision-making—making decisions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate standards of conduct, respect for others, and likely consequences of various actions; applying decision-making skills to academic and social situations; and contributing to the well-being of one’s school and community.
These skills allow children to calm themselves when angry, initiate friendships, resolve relationship conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and safe choices. To develop these capacities, children need to experience safe, nurturing, and well-managed environments where they feel valued and respected; to have meaningful interactions with others who are socially and emotionally competent; and to receive positive and specific guidance.
Many excellent SEL curricula and programs are available that provide sequential and developmentally appropriate instruction in SEL skills, and structured opportunities for children to practice, apply, and be recognized for using these skills throughout the day. SEL programs are ideally implemented in a coordinated manner throughout the school district, from preschool through high school. Lessons are reinforced in both classroom and non-classroom settings (such as the hallways, cafeteria, and playground), as well as during out-of-school activities and at home. Educators receive ongoing professional development in SEL, and families and schools work together to promote children’s social, emotional, and academic success.
What Is Bullying?
In its Safe Communities ~ Safe Schools Fact Sheet, the Center for the Study and Prevention of School Violence (2008) uses three criteria to distinguish bullying from other occurrences of misbehavior or isolated cases of aggression:
1. It is aggressive behavior or intentional harm-doing.
2. It is carried out repeatedly and over time.
3. It occurs within an interpersonal relationship characterized by an imbalance of power.
Thus, a student is bullied or victimized when he or she is the repeated target of deliberate negative actions by one or more students who possess greater verbal, physical, social, or psychological power.
Direct bullying is a relatively open attack on a victim that is physical (hitting, kicking, pushing, choking) and/or verbal (name calling, threatening, taunting, malicious teasing) in nature. Indirect bullying is more subtle and difficult to detect. It involves one or more forms of relational aggression, including social isolation, intentional exclusion, rumor-spreading, damaging someone’s reputation, making faces or obscene gestures behind someone’s back, and manipulating friendships and other relationships.
Students increasingly bully others using electronic communication devices and the Internet. Cyberbullying involves sending hurtful or threatening text messages and images with these devices in order to damage the target’s reputation and relationships. This form of bullying can be very difficult for adults to detect or track, and almost half of those victimized do not know the identity of the perpetrator. Electronic bullying most commonly involves the use of instant messaging, chat rooms, and e-mail (Kowalski & Limber, 2007).
The Connection Between SEL and Bullying Prevention
Given these contributing social factors, preventing and reducing bullying requires a focus on the social, emotional, and moral climate of the school, as well as on the social and emotional competence of the entire school body (Bosaki, Marini, & Dane, 2006; Knoff, 2007; San Antonio & Salzfass, 2007; Vreeman & Carroll, 2007; Whitted & Dupper, 2005). Although much remains to be learned about best practices for bullying prevention and intervention, the existing research suggests that universal schoolbased prevention programs (i.e., those designed for all children) can be effective. A recent report by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services (Hahn et al., 2007) concluded that universal school-based programs designed to prevent or reduce violent behavior, including bullying, significantly reduced rates of violent behavior and aggression for all grade levels.
Vreeman and Carroll (2007), in their systematic review of school-based interventions designed to prevent bullying, concluded that the most effective interventions typically use a whole-school approach consisting of some combination of school-wide rules and sanctions, teacher training, classroom curricula, conflict resolution training, and individual counseling. Anti-bullying programs exclusively directed at the bully, the victim, or both, without involving other students or addressing larger school climate issues, are less likely to be effective.
In order to successfully address bullying problems, the entire school must comprise a culture of respect. Expectations for how staff and students treat one another should be clearly reflected in school policies, and the rules for classroom interaction should be consistently modeled by adults and enforced and reinforced in all school settings. At the student level, schools using an SEL framework teach students skills in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision-making. These core SEL skills are the foundational competencies that students need in order to deal with bullying. The six skills often overlap and complement one another, as illustrated below.
Self-Awareness and Self-Management Skills
Recognize and manage emotions in order to respond to conflict in calm and assertive ways. In order to handle conflicts effectively, children need to be able to recognize when they are getting angry, and learn to calm themselves before reacting. Children who frequently bully others tend to have trouble managing anger and to strike out aggressively. Bosworth, Espelage, and Simon (1999) found that children who are the angriest are the most likely to bully others. Children report that the need to relieve stress and having a bad day are the primary reasons they bully others (Swearer & Cary, 2007).
A recent study found that students expressing higher levels of sadness and emotional instability are more likely to be bullied (Analitis et al., 2009). Hyperactivity and emotional outbursts are the two factors most likely to annoy and provoke peers. Such provocation increases the likelihood of being victimized and not supported by peers over time (Rodkin & Hodges, 2003).
Research suggests that many victims (43 percent) respond to being bullied in an aggressive, retaliatory, or emotionally reactive manner that both prolongs and escalates the bullying episode (Wilton, Craig, & Pepler, 2000). These victims lack effective emotional regulation skills and may yell, scream, or cry in response (the least effective ways to stop bullying), thereby rewarding the aggressor (Goldbaum et al., 2006; Salmivalli, 1999) and making themselves more vulnerable to further victimization.
Be tolerant and appreciative of differences, and interact empathetically with peers. Research suggests that children often lack empathy for the victims of bullying, and that they view being different from the social ideal, or social norm, as the cause of bullying (Swearer & Cary, 2007). When active bystanders were asked why they chose to intervene, they were likely to attribute feelings of empathy for the victim and a general concern for the well-being of others as motivating factors. Bystanders are also more likely to intervene when they have positive feelings and attitudes toward the victim (Rigby & Johnson, 2006).
Initiate and sustain friendships and other relationships. Victimized children tend to have fewer friends, to only have friends who are also victimized, and to have more enemies than non-victimized children (Rodkin & Hodges, 2003). Many are socially withdrawn and lack confidence and skills in effectively interacting with peers (Pelligrini, 2002; Salmivalli, 1999). Because of their lack of peer support, victimized children are less likely to have other children come to their defense when they are bullied (Rodkin & Hodges, 2003; Slaby, 2005).
Research suggests that having high-quality friendships, or at least one best friend, can help prevent children from being victims (Boulton, Trueman, Chau, Whitehand, & Amatya, 1999; Goldbaum, Craig, Pepler, & Connolly, 2006). Interventions that help peer-rejected children learn how to positively communicate with peers (e.g., ask questions, show support, make suggestions) can help them be more accepted by peers, less likely to be bullied, and more likely to be assisted by peers if targeted by a bully (Pelligrini, 2002).
Resist social pressure to enable, encourage, or directly participate in bullying, and actively defend victims. Studies have revealed that when bystanders observe bullying, they spend most of their time either actively participating in the act or passively encouraging the aggressor by serving as an audience; less than one-quarter of the time do they try to assist the victim (O’Connell, Pepler, & Craig, 1999; Slaby, 2005).
There are a variety of reasons that bystanders don’t come to the assistance of victims:
- They are intimidated by the social or physical power of those doing the bullying
- They fear retaliation
- They are reluctant to challenge group norms supporting bullying
- They don’t recognize the act as bullying
- They lack a sense of personal responsibility or self-confidence
- They don’t know what to do to help.
It’s worth noting that when bystanders do assert their disapproval of a bullying act, the episode usually ends quickly—in fewer than 10 seconds, in about half the cases (Craig & Pepler, 1997; Salmivalli, 1999).
Be able to seek help from peers or other adults when needed. Research suggests that victims and bystanders typically do not seek help from peers or adults when they are unable to solve the problem on their own (O’Connell et al., 1999). Self-identified victims are particularly likely to blame themselves for their victimization and to “suffer in silence” (Graham, Bellmore, & Juvonen, 2006).
Reprinted with the permission of the Committee for Children. © 2007 Committee for Children.
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