Committee for Children Blog

The Second Step Program and the Bullying Prevention Unit: A Powerful Combination

We here at Committee for Children have long recognized that there are solutions that help reduce the levels of bullying in schools. The new Second Step Bullying Prevention Unit is such a solution. The Unit was created for elementary students and staff so the skills, behaviors and attitudes that help prevent bullying are instilled as early as possible and alongside fundamental social-emotional learning (SEL).

The concept is simple: teach SEL skills as a foundation for bullying prevention. Then, add research-based lessons focused on bullying-specific content for students and bullying prevention training and resources for all adults in the school.

The Bullying Prevention Unit was designed to be used with the Second Step program because we know that an effective way of tackling the problem of bullying is by focusing on children’s social-emotional skills. These skills enable children to be socially competent and help build an overall positive school climate. We also know that we need to go beyond SEL skills to ensure that bullying behaviors are recognized, refused, responded to and reported. Here’s how Second Step skills and the Bullying Prevention Unit combine to make the most comprehensive bullying prevention strategy.

The Second Step Program

The Second Step program focuses on core social-emotional skills that are particularly important for bullying prevention, including empathy, emotion management, and social problem solving. It also teaches friendship building and how to be assertive; also key skills in bullying prevention.

Empathy is feeling or understanding what someone else is feeling. Greater awareness of others’ feelings not only allows students to treat each other with respect and kindness, it may cause them to intervene in bullying situations as well. Empathic concern toward peers makes bystanders more likely to intervene to stop bullying.

Emotion management is the ability to monitor and regulate strong emotions and calm down when upset. Lack of emotion management may make a student more prone to being bullied. In fact, nearly half of children who are bullied tend to escalate and intensify the bullying by responding with highly emotional reactions, such as yelling, screaming, or crying. Good emotion management not only prevents children from becoming victims of bullying, it also helps them respond to it as bystanders.
Additionally, research has shown that students are more likely to bully others if they lack emotion-management skills.

Social problem solving is the ability to successfully navigate through social problems and challenges. Children who are good social problem solvers can recognize a problem, reflect on possible solutions, and understand consequences to a particular action.

Both children who bully and those who are bullied lack social problem-solving skills. Those who bully often misread social cues and situations. This lack of social awareness leads children who bully to act with more hostility and aggression in social situations. Students who are bullied also lack effective social problem-solving skills. They may behave passively in social situations, which can set them up for being bullied.

Effectively managing social situations is also an important skill for those students who are bystanders. By properly assessing a social situation and coming to the appropriate decision to intervene, bystanders can help stop bullying.

Friendship building is an important protective factor against being bullied. Students who have at least one friend are less likely to be bullied by peers, and bullied students with a good friend experience less subsequent bullying and fewer emotional and behavioral problems.

Assertiveness training is another component of building positive relationships. Learning to be assertive is particularly important for children who may be bullied, so they are not targeted more often. In addition, learning assertiveness can help bystanders use specific strategies to stop the bullying or ask adults for help.

The Bullying Prevention Unit

Student-Focused Content

Based on the latest research, including a recent evaluation study of our Steps to Respect program, The Bullying Prevention Unit lessons encourage specific helpful bystander behaviors and positive student norms by teaching students to recognize, report and refuse bullying. In learning to recognize bullying, students increase their awareness of the problem, learn to identify when they or others are being bullied, and increase their empathy for bullied students. Giving students a clear message to report bullying sets a positive norm, lets student who might bully know there will be consequences, and supports adults in their efforts to reduce bullying. Lesson content on refusing bullying behavior reinforces the message that bullying does not have to be tolerated and encourages students to both report and use assertiveness skills to stand up to bullying.

The lessons also teach explicit skills for including others and inviting others to join in activities, which can reduce the social isolation that contributes to bullying.

Adult-Focused Content

The schoolwide components of the Bullying Prevention Unit provide staff with training and resources to support program implementation and help foster a positive school climate while dealing appropriately with bullying behavior.

Principal and administrator leadership is important to the success and effectiveness of school-based prevention programs. The Bullying Prevention Unit training helps school leaders understand anti-bullying policies and laws and helps them communicate policies and procedures to staff, making it clear that bullying prevention is a school priority.

School leaders are also responsible for fostering positive relationships and communication with families. The training provides practice in responding to parent concerns about bullying in school.

All-staff training is focused on recognizing bullying, responding effectively to students involved in bullying situations and reporting bullying. The Bullying Prevention Unit provides resources and specific training to help staff work effectively with both students who bully and students who are victimized.

Positive Relationships in the Classroom

The relationships among students and between students and teachers affect the classroom climate and have important impacts on bullying. When healthy, these relationships help reduce bullying and relational aggression and reduce children’s involvement in violence. Teachers can support student success both socially and academically by providing emotional support to students, and the effects of that emotional support are greatest for those who are more vulnerable or at higher risk.

The Bullying Prevention Unit encourages the development of healthy relationships and positive classroom climate by providing teachers with materials for positive relationship-building games and classroom meetings and support for both teaching and daily reinforcement of key interpersonal skills.

Research-Based, Comprehensive Bullying Prevention

Together, the Second Step program and the Bullying Prevention Unit provide schools with the most comprehensive, research-based solution to bullying. The benefits of teaching both will extend far beyond just bullying prevention, but will help build a positive school climate and ensure the best environment for learning.


Mia Doces is Committee for Children’s New Mission Ventures Manager. She loves connecting with people who share her passion for work that supports the safety and positive development of children. While she may not be able to find anything amidst the piles on her desk, she’s never at a loss for words.