How Social-Emotional Skills Can Help Reduce Bullying

What causes bullying in schools? Research suggests that teens bully when they have insufficient self-confidence, social acceptance, respect, and/or feelings of insecurity. Schools continuously work to reduce bullying, but unfortunately there are no fast or easy solutions.

In the spirit of Bullying Prevention Month, learn more about why students resort to bullying and how social-emotional skills can help.

What Social-Emotional Skills Can Offer

Social-emotional skills can dramatically reduce bullying by teaching the skills, attitudes and behaviors that students who bully are typically deficient in, deficiencies that often lead them to bully in the first place. Students are not born with the ability to manage their emotions and get along with others. They need to develop these skills in caring and nurturing environments. By its own nature, SEL creates an anti-bullying environment by teaching students how to better manage their emotions while promoting a safe and caring learning environment where all students are supported and respected.

Research shows the most effective anti-bullying campaigns rely on a multifaceted approach that includes school-wide training and awareness, classroom instruction/activities, and intervention. A meta-analysis of 59 bullying intervention evaluations found several features to have the greatest impact. Some of the most effective elements identified include:

  • School-wide assemblies that raise awareness of the effects of bullying
  • Improved techniques for identifying bullying
  • Classroom rules against bullying
  • Established consequences for bullying behavior
  • Increased playground supervision
  • Parent involvement

Below are three areas where schools can incorporate an SEL framework to support their anti-bullying efforts:

1. Build a School-wide Culture of Respect: Research shows that bullying rates drop when schools make an explicit effort to create an environment where all students are respected and valued. Success depends on strong school norms, policies and values that emphasize respect for others and acceptance of diversity. All staff and students need to be involved, and educators should reach out to families and parents to reinforce the efforts at home.

Take action: Have your staff define what bullying is and create clear intervention and prevention guidelines. Post anti-bullying rules around the school and reward students for positive behavior. Facilitate classroom meetings to help teachers keep up to date on what’s going on in the school and also help students build communication and emotion-management skills in a safe environment. Send a newsletter home to parents informing them of your work and how to recognize and deal with bullying behavior at home. has a wealth of information, ideas and guidance to help you get started.

2. Relationship building: Building relationships is essential to creating a safe and caring culture because it teaches students to discuss their emotions and find healthy alternatives to hurtful actions towards others.

Take action: Have students journal about their feelings and the importance of relationships. Whole-class or small-group discussion activities can give students a space to practice relationship building in real-life situations. PBS NewsHour offers a free lesson plan to authentically teach students about the effects of bullying, helping them learn how to better resolve conflicts and to empathize with others.

3. Conflict Resolution: Youth who engage in bullying often have trouble managing their emotions and tend to be angry. They deal with their anger by lashing out at others. At the same time, students who express emotional instability or high levels of sadness may be more likely to be bullied. By teaching conflict resolution, educators can help students develop healthier ways to deal with their emotions.

Take action: Check out this worksheet from KidsHealth in the Classroom for numerous resources, articles and activities to help students learn conflict resolution.

There are many ways SEL can support bullying prevention, and the SEL framework can help your school create a caring and safe environment that respects all students. Teaching SEL is an essential component of reducing bullying because it helps students learn how to deal with their emotions and resolve conflicts in a healthier way. Need more ideas on how to integrate SEL into your framework? Our experts are glad to help – contact us today!