Bullying is the most frequent form of school violence. One-quarter of all students experience hurtful interactions with peers on a monthly or daily basis.

How should educators respond? Schools will be most successful when they implement a complete approach to bullying prevention – and the skills of emotional intelligence are invaluable to do so.

bullying - especially the all-too-common emotional bullying - needs to end

Prevention is strengthened when an anti-bullying program is aligned with a larger, whole school and community framework for prevention. The goal is positive youth development and to support everyone in the community to handle conflict in positive ways.

Bullying doesn’t “just happen.” It’s the result of a system where children are stressed, afraid, isolated, angry, hurt – and don’t know how to handle their emotions well. It’s critical that we address some of the underlying contributing social, emotional, and environmental factors that can lead to bullying. A social and emotional learning (SEL) framework can serve just this purpose by building a safe, supportive, and accountable school climate.

Tips for Bullying Prevention

According to a recent study, a comprehensive approach to bullying would include:

  • a school-wide component centered on training, awareness, monitoring,
 and assessment of bullying;
  • a classroom component focused on reinforcing school-
wide rules and building social and emotional skills, such as social problem solving
 and empathy;
  • an intervention component for students who are frequent targets or perpetrators of bullying.

At Six Seconds we believe that a school-wide comprehensive approach focusing on developing a positive and caring school climate is necessary.

Going Further than Bullying Prevention

Students need to be taught not just to “cope” with bullying, but to develop empathy and caring for each other. It’s time to systematically and proactively decrease bullying and reduce its horrific effects. It’s time to promote a culture of kindness, respect, and inclusion both at school and at home, as well as in the workplace and community.

replace bullying with empathy

Here are some strategies you can implement as an educator:

  1. Model inclusive behaviors.
    Reach out to students who are rejected by peers or withdrawn. Your modeling will encourage students doing the excluding to be inclusive of their peers. According to researchers, when teachers are warm and caring to everyone, including aggressive or peer-rejected children, all students in the classroom are less rejecting of their peers.
  1. Teach explicit social emotional learning (SEL) skills
    In a class meeting setting, help students become more aware of their feelings, and their role in contributing to a more peaceful classroom.  For example, when learning about empathy, students 
can discuss what it feels like to be bullied, watch a video on effects of bullying, and discuss actions they can take as “upstanders,” (those who stand up to bullies). Teach students about restorative justice, not retribution, so, as a group, they begin to take responsibility for teaching each other more compassionate ways to resolve conflicts.
    By teaching discrete SEL skills, you will be establishing a class climate of respect and warmth, supported by regular class meetings to discuss and practice strategies to deal with bullying and other harmful behaviors.
  1. Align your efforts with additional system-wide resources.
    According to experts students who are victims of bullying, witness bullying, or are perpetrators, need extended opportunities outside the classroom, to practice relevant SEL skills, such as anger management, assertive communication, and social problem-solving. Your school counselor or social worker can be a great help here.
  1. Establish a Core Team of SEL advocates to develop a school-wide SEL plan and envision multiple strategies for integration of SEL. Plan for SEL coaching for individual students, activities for small groups, and lessons for classrooms. Align with other positive youth development school initiatives, and make an effort to engage all parents and teachers in partnership. Advocate not only for an end to bullying, but for a school-wide SEL approach that promotes positive change, and compassion, respect, and inclusion for all.

Here are three things you can do as a parent: 

  1. Be intentional about noticing the positive things your child does. Notice 3 positive things today and mention it to your child.  Be sure you’re acknowledging the effort/process, not the end product. In the long term, this practice will make it easier for the child to be self-accepting, more resilient and less impacted by bullying.
  2. Recognize that as your child grows older, he or she will capable of more opportunities to act independently. Brainstorm with your child a new task/chore that he can take on right now, not matter how small. This gives him a sense of agency that is so critical to standing up for oneself or someone else in need when confronted with bullying.
  3. Promote empathy for others through your own actions. When reading or watching a movie with your child, reflect on the various perspectives of the characters. Imagine different scenarios for why the characters acted the way they do.  You can get outrageous with the scenarios and solicit lots of laughter.  This practice builds the muscle for empathy and can help children to be more accepting of others – and more likely to cooperate and less inclined to bully.

For more ideas, here is a great collection of anti-bullying resources: TES Teaching Resources Anti-Bullying Collection


Dr. Susan Stillman

Director of Education, Six Seconds' Global Office: With years of experience as an educational leader, scholar-practitioner, K-12 school counselor, and higher ed faculty, Susan brings a diverse background and set of skills to bear on her mission to build and sustain the Six Seconds' educational programs and to support Six Seconds' team members around the world, working to develop EQ in children, educators, families, schools, and communities.

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