Bullying in schools has become a nationwide concern, with many anti-bullying practices being implemented in every state. Social and emotional learning (SEL) can provide an effective foundation for reducing bullying in schools. Practicing SEL skills will create a school environment that fosters positive interactions. Here are four characteristics of SEL, that aim to curb bullying in schools:
1. Open, supportive relationships between students and teachers.
Open communication between students and teachers presents an opportunity for students to learn positive conflict resolution techniques. These techniques allow students to resolve problems before they escalate into fully fledged bullying.
2. Solid communication between schools and families.
Families need to be involved with their child’s school. When a parent is actively engaged in what happens to their child at school on a daily basis, they can help teach positive behaviour and reinforce messages from the teachers. Working as a team with the child’s school, ensures that the same positive messages are being taught on a variety of levels and in a variety of environments.
3. Emphasis on respect and tolerance.
SEL requires school policies that highlight respect for peers, acceptance and appreciation of everyone’s differences. A school community in which students understand and embrace differences is a place where positive behaviour will thrive.
4. Teaching skills that allow kids to recognise and handle emotions, and engage in caring peer relationships.
In addition to school policies requiring respect and tolerance, students must be taught how to engage in positive social interactions and develop caring peer relationships with one another. Teaching students how to express and handle emotions positively will support responsible decision-making and avoid negative scenarios that could escalate into bullying.
SEL skills arm students with the ability to handle their emotions in a positive way that results in enhanced social problem solving, supportive attitudes toward others, and overall academic success. Social and emotional learning provides students with many benefits that enhance the school community as a whole, creating a caring and nurturing environment in which bullying has no place.
Quirky Kid has also recently published a comprehensive SEL program called The Best of Friends. Find out more about it online. Equip your child with some of our therapeutic resources such as the Quirky Kid ‘Face It’ cards, which are designed to increase emotional awareness. Most importantly, please feel free to contact us to learn more about the benefits of social and emotional learning.
Bullying within the school context has gained much recognition and response over the last decade. As teachers, parents and students have become more aware of the nature and definition of bullying, namely, repeated aggression that is intended to cause harm, distress and/or fear to another in a position of less power, there has been a call for a greater response from schools and the wider community to address this serious and pervasive issue.
Australian research suggests that one in four children will experience bullying at some time in the schooling, with the transition years between primary and high school seeing the highest incidences of bullying. While we know the pathways to bullying behaviour can be complex and varied, there are a number of factors, which addressed in the early years of a child’s schooling, can help minimise the incidences of bullying within a school and build children’s resilience in the face of difficult and aggressive peer interactions. Interestingly, longitudinal research is showing us that behaviours such as aggression and dominance in a child’s early years can develop into serious and persistent bullying behaviour as the child grows and points to the necessity of early intervention and skills training for children in their preschool and primary school years.
Sense of connectedness
One of the most significant factors which is common to children that both bully and fall victim to bullying, is a reported lack of significant connection and positive feelings towards their school, teachers and peers. Having meaningful and supportive relationships with others in the school appears to build children’s resilience and ability to cope, even when difficulties occur within their school-based relationships. Interestingly, children at the Quirky Kid Clinic most commonly talk about a significant teacher when asked about what they enjoy at school, rather than a favourite subject. It is the relationship and positive experiences derived from the relationship that children derive most value from. Schools need to consider how to develop children’s sense of connectedness to their school, whether it be through fostering child-teacher mentoring relationships, shared child-teacher projects or peer-led initiatives within the school.
Friendships play an integral part in bullying experiences. We know that bullies derive reinforcement through onlookers who do not act to stop their bullying behaviour and that children who have at least one meaningful, reciprocated friendship are less likely to be bullied. Selecting, making and maintaining friendships is a skill that needs to be modelled and supported in children, teaching them basic skills such as how to start a conversation through to more complex skills of managing peer conflict and using humour in peer relationships. Children at the Quirky Kid Clinic enjoy role playing friendship skills, giving them room to learn and test out how their friendship skills might play out, in a fun and safe environment. Helping children learn how to help their friends if they see they are being bullied is essential to promote bystander intervention, with strategies such as seeking a teachers support and telling the bully that they are being mean and need to stop, commonly used strategies at the Clinic.
Whole School environment
The most common answer given when children are asked why they bully, is that their peer was in some way different, whether it be in looks, in their family structure, sexaulity or cultural identity. In Australia, differences in cultural identity remains one of the most significant reasons children choose to bully another. Although the development of attitudes and beliefs is a very complex process, children’s attitudes towards cultural tolerance are very much shaped close to home via parents, peers and the media. Recent research suggests that one in ten Australians believe some races are naturally superior or inferior and advocate segregation.
Teachers’ attitudes in the classroom are also key. Having limited knowledge of the cultural details of students can result in a stereotypical view of students, which may then negatively influence teacher’s behavior and expectations of students. Because children’s attitudes develop and flourish from very early experiences, the kindergarten and primary school years are ideal focal points for addressing the cultural attitudes of children and reinforcing the importance of inclusion and acceptance.
Community members have indicated that schools are a top priority in terms of converting ideas into action. Positive outcomes have been found with the utilisation of projects within schools that celebrate and embrace cultural differences. Some suggestions for fostering an inclusive, positive, accepting attitudes in schools include:
Talking positively about people as a whole and including books and materials which contain pictures and stories of culturally and linguistically diverse people, people from a wide range of family structures and with different physical appearances, for example.
- Discussing difference and cultural diversity openly
- Embracing opportunities to engage with many diverse cultures and backgrounds, particularly from families within the school environment
- Improving professional development opportunities for teachers and staff, for example through the ‘School Days Project’ by Quirky Kid
- Actively participating in Harmony Day
In addition to promoting and encouraging the acceptance of diversity and difference within the school setting is also the necessity of promoting a safe and predictable environment for children. Children need to understand the rules and expectations in their environment and understand the predictable consequences of their behaviour. Keep expectations visible and accessible through discussion and practice and ensure consistency among the staff.
Address the individual child
Some children may need more focused and individual support to help them develop prosocial behaviour and positive coping strategies to manage difficult peer relationships. While children who bully and children who become victims to bullying may present with very different individual and familial characteristics, supporting these children with the development of their social skills appears to be a necessary area of intervention. The Best of Friends Program, developed by the Quirky Kid Clinic, addresses social skills in children and can be conducted in a school setting with children from 3-13 years. The Best of Friends Program is designed to support children in developing and integrating social skills important to developing positive and effective peer relationships, such as conversational, empathy building and conflict resolution skills.
What we know from the literature and our experiences at the Quirky Kid Clinic, is that if children do not have the skills and strategies to develop positive peer relationships, that they are more likely to engage in unhelpful conflict resolution skills such as violence, submission and emotional dysregulation which have been demonstrated to maintain conflict and bullying. Directing, modelling and practicing social skills is an important component in fostering positive relationships in the school environment.
NATIONAL SAFE SCHOOLS FRAMEWORK RESOURCE MANUAL 18 March 2011 www.safeschools.deewr.gov.au
Bradshaw C. P., Koth C. W., Thornton L. A., and Leaf P. J. (2009a) ‘Altering school climate through school-wide positive behavioural interventions and supports: Findings from a group randomized effectiveness trial’. Prevention Science, Vol.10, No.2, pp.100-115.
Bradshaw, C. P., Mitchell, M. M., & Leaf, P. J. (2009b). ‘Examining the effects of School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports on student outcomes: Results from a randomized controlled effectiveness trial in elementary schools’. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, Vol.12, No.3, pp.133-148
Bradshaw, C.P., Reinke, W.M., Brown, L. D., Bevans, K.B., & Leaf, P.J. (2008). ‘Implementation of school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in elementary schools: Observations from a randomized trial’. Education & Treatment of Children, No. 31, 1-26.
Espelage, D. L. and Swearer, S. M. (2003) ‘Research on school bullying and victimization: What have we learned and where do we go from here?’ School Psychology Review, Vol.32, No.2, pp.365-383.
Farrington, D.P. and Ttofi, M.M. (2009); School-based programs to reduce bullying and victimization. Campbell Systematic Reviews, No.6
Ferguson, C. J., Miguel, C. S., Kilburn, J. C. and Sanchez, P. (2007) ‘The effectiveness of school based anti-bullying programs’. Criminal Justice Review, Vol.32, 401 – 414.
Kimberley O’Brien, our principal child psychologist, discussed kids wearing glasses and its implication on bullying with writer Melanie Kell for the Mivision magazine. Next time you are visiting your optometrist , grab a copy of the magazine to find more about the interview. The key points Kimberley discussed were:
- “Schools are becoming more competitive – intelligence is valued and glasses are linked to intelligence,” said Kimberley O’Brien, the Clinic’s Principal Psychologist.
- That said, some kids just love to stand out. Ms. O’Brien from Quirky Kid Clinic described one patient who chose “very funky green glasses” that leap out rather then toned in. “Gemma tried to look individual and she was quite popular because of that,” she said.
- The bottom line? “Children need to feel comfortable with the glasses they wear,” said Ms. O’Brien. “If possible, give them the freedom to choose their own frames.”
You can find useful, practical and informative advice about parenting and young people by visiting our resources page, – or discussing it on our forum.
If you have a story and would like to discuss it with us, please contact us to schedule a time.
Kimberley O’Brien enjoys sharing the best of her therapeutic moments with the media. View our media appearances to-date.
Kimberley O’Brien, Principal Child Psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic was recently asked to review a book on Cyberbullying.
“Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” written by author and judge, Tom Jacobs, presents a powerful collection of landmark court cases involving teens and charges of cyberbullying and cyberharassment. Each chapter features a seminal cyberbullying case and resulting decision, asks readers whether they agree with the decision, and urges them to think about how the decision affects their lives. Chapters also include related cases, tips, important facts and statistics, and suggestions for further reading.
Kimberley’s review was included in the interior of the book and stated that “This book is at the forefront of cyberbullying literature. It has the capacity to inform school policy as parents, teachers, and principals race to find solutions for bullies and support for victims”.
To find out more about cyberbullying and other teen issues, visit Judge Tom Jacobs website, Ask the Judge.
Additional information regarding cyberbullying can also be found on our fact sheets.