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Social-Emotional Learning is a Must to Reduce Bullying!

Should social skills and emotional coping strategies be taught explicitly at school?  Is this the role of teachers, parents, or a partnership between teachers and parents?

The reality is that there are many children in all countries who lack supportive, loving and safe home environments that promote good values. These children often experience a negative side of life that can have a devastating effect on their character and development. Domestic violence, alcoholism and social isolation, are but three of a host of problems facing many young people today.  Rates of teenage depression and suicide are on the increase in many countries.

Research shows that children naturally and intuitively learn by following examples set by others, in particular parents and adult guardians. Those living in homes lacking warmth, caring, love and positive parental involvement, are likely to imitate negative behavior, which in turn can quickly become normal behavior.

Regardless of their situation, all schools expect children to act with respect, caring and kindness when interacting with their teachers and peers.  When their behaviour is deemed anti-social, they may be labeled a bully, the focus issue of exploration of this article.

Rightly so, the well-being of victims of bullying needs be addressed promptly by school authorities. Whilst this is being undertaken, quite often little tolerance or empathy is extended to bullies, leading to them being further isolated from good models of behavior. Concerned and upset parents usually find themselves overcome by emotion, unable to see beyond the pain inflicted on their child to consider the background or circumstances of the offender as a possible cause of their behaviour. Their mission is to protect their child and stop the bullying, and they often apply significant pressure on schools and individual teachers to reprimand offending children, failing to see the ineffectiveness of punishing bullies through sanctions.  Such actions are understandable but ultimately does not address the overall root causes of bullying.

For schools to be successful in addressing bullying behaviour, they must acknowledge that a lack of character education within the home usually affects children’s emotional competency to operate successfully in a school environment. It’s not enough to simply tell children not to bully, point out the consequences, impose harsh sanctions or suspend them from school. With all the complexities of growing up, students need to be explicitly taught how to be kind, considerate and accepting of others.  If this is not taking place in the home environment, then it needs to take place in the classroom.  It has become clear that schools must now adopt a whole child approach by including social and emotional learning (SEL) on an ongoing basis to address social, emotional and mental health issues, and create safe and supportive environments for all children.  This is crucially important for children come socially and economically disadvantaged communities.

KidsMatter is a highly commendable Australian government funded mental health and character development framework for primary schools. Their extensive research into SEL has tagged it as a key strategy for schools in their efforts to reduce bullying and improve caring, respect and responsibility within school and general communities.  It has been introduced throughout many Australian schools and indicators of its success are promising.

Another advocate for SEL in schools, Maurice Elias, a Professor at Rutgers University Psychology Department says “We need to be prepared to teach kindness, because it can be delayed due to maltreatment early in life. It can be smothered under the weight of poverty, and it can be derailed by victimization later in life. As a citizen, grandparent, father, and professional, it is clear to me that the mission of schools must include teaching kindness. Without it, communities, families, schools, and classrooms become places of incivility where lasting learning is unlikely to take place. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society."

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) says SEL can have a positive impact on school climate and promotes important academic, social, and emotional benefits for students such as:

1) Better academic performance: achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction;

2) Improved attitudes and behaviors: greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behavior;

3) Fewer negative behaviors: decreased disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals; and

4) Reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.

Schools need to take responsibility of teaching specific social skills and emotional coping strategies. Every school needs to look at their own demographics and circumstances and design explicit teaching programs. This will lead to a significant promotion of social skills and a healthier emotional wellbeing of students thus allowing them to lead happier and more successful lives.

This article was written by Lisa Currie who has given permission for it to appear on World Schools Review. Lisa is the founder of the Ripple Kindness Project, a community project and school curriculum that improves social, emotional and mental health, and reduces bullying in schools. The ongoing, whole school primary curriculum, teaches children about their emotions and their words and actions have on themselves and others, and provides opportunities for kindness to be noticed and shown in everyday situations to make altruism a natural and instinctive part of life. to find out more, please review  Lisa's website: www.ripplekindness.org

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