Social and Emotional Lessons Reduce BullyingStudents with disabilities who learn emotional regulation and communication skills are less likely to bully others, finds a study from the University of Illinois. Researchers conducted a three-year trial of a curriculum that teaches students about dealing with bullying, emotions, and empathy. The curriculum, called Second Step, lead to reductions in bullying perpetration among students with disabilities. The findings indicate that helping students with disabilities learn to better regulate their emotions can reduce bullying in schools.

Over 120 students with disabilities at two Midwestern school districts participated in the three-year clinical trial of the Second Step curriculum. The students were divided into two groups: 47 students participated in Second Step and 76 students served as the control group. In each group, 47 percent of the students had a learning disability. The remaining students in each group had cognitive, speech/language, or emotional disabilities.

All of the students completed a survey at the beginning of the study about their involvement in verbal and relational bullying. Students were surveyed again in the spring in each year of the study. Students in the experimental group received 41 Second Step lessons during sixth and eighth grade.

For students participating in Second Step, self-reported bullying perpetration decreased by 20 percent by the end of the study.

Surprisingly, there were no significant reductions in fighting among the intervention group or the control group. The researchers suggest that this could be because the program is focused on teaching students to manage and reflect on impulses toward proactive, rather than reactive, aggression.

Study leader Dorothy Espelage, Gutgsell Endowed Professor of child development, says of the results, “The significant reduction in bullying perpetration over this three-year study is a notable finding, because much of the existing literature suggests that students with disabilities are overrepresented in the bullying dynamic. Evidence suggests that this may be because they are more likely to have social and communication skill deficits, and these are foundational skills taught in the Second Step program.”

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