Second Step® Insights

Creating a Culture of Kindness: Using Research-Based Approaches to Prevent Bullying

May 22, 2024 | By: The Second Step® Team

This article is a recap of a webinar by Amy Walker, senior national partnerships manager at Committee for Children.

Bullying among students continues to be an ongoing challenge for educators around the country—especially in the wake of the pandemic. Schools being shut down for extended periods of time left kids needing to relearn how to interact in the classroom. But there’s a silver lining to that lost time. It gives us an opportunity to re-create school culture and build it on a foundation of kindness—one where kids feel like they fit in, make friends, and form fulfilling relationships with their peers.

The first step in achieving that goal is to understand bullying research. When schools familiarize themselves with the latest research on bullying, they can help educators identify risk factors, patterns, and effective intervention strategies. Early intervention and consistent monitoring to prevent bullying-related incidents are key to creating an inclusive environment where students can feel safe. By staying informed about research findings, schools can tailor prevention efforts to the specific challenges faced by their students to foster a stable, supportive climate.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) can play a crucial role in nurturing a positive school climate. By integrating SEL practices, schools can foster empathy, resilience, and healthy relationships among students in a variety of ways:

  • Emotional literacy: SEL programs show children how to recognize and understand their own emotions. When children can identify their own feelings, they often become more empathetic toward others. By discussing emotions openly, they can learn to express themselves and develop compassion for their peers.
  • Empathy building: SEL programs teach children to put themselves in others’ shoes. Through role-play, stories, and discussions, kids can practice empathy and learn to respond with kindness and understanding.
  • Conflict resolution: SEL programs are designed to equip students with tools to resolve conflicts peacefully. When children learn effective communication and problem-solving, they can discover that kindness and compromise lead to better outcomes than aggression or exclusion.
  • Relationship development: SEL practices emphasize positive relationships, so children learn about active listening, cooperation, and building connections. When children feel connected to their peers, they more often exhibit kindness and support.
  • Self-regulation: Social-emotional skills help children manage their emotions and reactions. When children can control impulsive behavior, they’re more likely to treat others kindly. Regulating their own response to situations can help prevent hurtful actions driven by frustration or anger.
  • Modeling by adults: Educators and parents also play a vital role. When adults model kindness, empathy, and respectful behavior at school and at home, kids can learn by example. SEL programs encourage adults to create a positive environment where kindness is valued.

Elements of strong SEL initiatives

SEL programs strive to prevent bullying by creating a supportive atmosphere rooted in shared values, beliefs, and practices. SEL initiatives are more likely to be successful when they adhere to the following elements.

  • Whole-school approach: Bullying prevention can involve the entire school community—students, teachers, staff, parents, and administrators. Schools can create a comprehensive plan that includes:

    • School policies: Clear policies against bullying and harassment
    • Education and training: Regular training for staff and students
    • Awareness campaigns: Raising awareness about bullying prevention
    • Reporting procedures: Encouraging students to report incidents
    • Support systems: Providing support for kids who have bullied or been bullied

  • Promoting kindness and inclusion: Schools can organize activities that promote kindness, empathy, and inclusion, such as:

    • Random acts of kindness: Encouraging students to perform small acts of kindness
    • Peer mentorship programs: Older students mentoring younger ones
    • Inclusive clubs: LGBTQ clubs, cultural clubs, and so on, to celebrate diversity
    • Character education: Teaching values like respect, compassion, and integrity

  • Monitoring and evaluation: Continuous monitoring of school occurrences and student behavior tracks the effects of the program and reveals areas for improvement. This includes:

    • Assessment: Regularly assessing the effectiveness of bullying-prevention efforts
    • Data collection: Collecting data on incidents, student perceptions, and outcomes
    • Strategy adjustment: Adjusting strategies based on feedback and results

Creating a culture of kindness requires ongoing commitment and collaboration. It’s not only about preventing negative behaviors but also cultivating compassion and respect within our educational communities. By implementing research-based SEL practices, schools can open up pathways for both personal and academic growth and can strive to create safe, respectful environments where students feel valued and supported.

For more information on bullying prevention, explore the Second Step® Bullying Prevention Unit, a research-based program designed for Kindergarten through Grade 5.