Good in theory, but in reality, there are many children who lack supportive, loving and safe home environments that promote good values. Instead these children often experience an ugly side of life that can have a devastating effect on their character and development.
Research shows that children naturally and almost unconsciously learn by following examples set by others. And those in homes lacking warmth, caring, love and parental involvement, are likely to imitate the negative behaviour they learn to consider normal.
Regardless of their situation, schools expect all children to be respectful, caring and kind when interacting with teachers and peers. When their behaviour is deemed anti-social or nasty, they may be labeled a bully.
There is little tolerance or empathy for bullies. Concerned, angry parents usually find themselves overcome by emotion and are unable to see beyond the pain inflicted on their child. Little thought is given to the circumstances of the offender as a possible cause of their behaviour. Their mission is to protect their child and stop the bullying. Often they apply pressure to schools to reprimand offending children but fail to see the ineffectiveness of punishing those who may not know any better.
To successfully addressing bullying, schools must acknowledge that a child’s emotional competency may be compromised by a lack of character education. It’s not enough to just tell children not to bully, point out the consequences or suspend them from school. Children must learn how to be kind, considerate and accepting of others.
Though their main purpose is for academic learning, it’s become clear that schools must now adopt a whole child approach. Including social and emotional learning (SEL) on an ongoing basis to address psychological and mental health issues is essential to create safe and supportive environments for all children.
KidsMatter is an Australian government funded mental health and wellbeing 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.
Another advocate for SEL in schools is Maurice Elias. A Professor at Rutgers University Psychology Department, he 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. It promotes a host of academic, social, and emotional benefits for students such as:
Better academic performance
Achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points higher than students who did not receive SEL instruction.
Improved attitudes and behaviours
Greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time devoted to schoolwork, and better classroom behaviour.
Fewer negative behaviours
Decreased disruptive class behaviour, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals.
Reduced emotional distress
Fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.
It’s encouraging to see there is a growing awareness among educators and policymakers who have become aware of the importance of SEL in combating bullying. Many are now prepared to take a modern approach to nurture well-rounded and society ready children who care for others.
Author: Lisa Currie, Ripple Kindness Project
Lisa is the founder of Ripple Kindness Project, a community program and school curriculum that aims to improve social, emotional and mental health, and reduce bullying by teaching and inspiring kindness. The ongoing, whole school primary curriculum, teaches children about their emotions and the impact their words and actions have on others. It provides opportunities for children to be part of kindness activities, allowing them to experience the feel good emotions kindness produces.