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School-based Interventions for Children to Prevent Aggression and Bullying and Promote Positive Social-emotional Skill Development

Statement of Problem

Exposure to peer aggression and bullying is a serious public health concern. Peer aggression is intentional, mean behavior directed at a peer, while peer bullying is a subset of aggressive behavior in which the aggression has occurred repeatedly and within the context of a real or perceived power imbalance between the bully and the victim. Involvement in these behaviors—either as a perpetrator or a victim—is linked to significant developmental challenges, including extensive peer difficulties, reduced academic success and higher drug use. Bullying victims have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts, and notably, bystanders who are witnesses to aggression and bullying experience increased reports of anxiety, depression and trauma.

Peer aggression and violence are more common in schools situated in communities that lack educational and social resources, where children are exposed to stressors such as community violence, poverty, limited access to quality education and systemic barriers. This can result in school climates where students feel unsafe and have difficulty learning.

To help children avoid these harmful, long-term outcomes, early prevention and intervention are crucial, particularly through school-based social-emotional learning (SEL) and aggression prevention programs. Research suggests that these programs should be:

  • Comprehensive to address multiple forms of aggression and bullying, including physical (e.g., hitting, fighting), verbal (e.g., name calling), and relational (e.g., rumor spreading, social exclusion) behaviors that can occur in person or online (e.g., cyber aggression and bullying)

  • Sensitive to the experiences of youth attending schools in urban, under-resourced communities who are at greater risk for exposure to high levels of aggression, bullying and community violence

  • Implemented through a model that is feasible (e.g., to promote fidelity) and involves coaching school staff to run the program (e.g., to promote effectiveness, generalizability and sustainability)

Description

Next Steps

Our goal is to disseminate these child-focused programs in schools to promote positive social-emotional skill development and prevent and intervene with aggression and bullying. Prior efficacy studies of these programs have shown great potential. An effectiveness trial of the described coaching adaptation of the small group program is currently underway, and funding is pending for an effectiveness trial of the translational adaptation of the classroom-based prevention program. Findings from these trials will guide future research and dissemination efforts. 

We’re also expanding our child-focused programming beyond grades three through five by developing and pilot testing a new program for first- and second-graders to improve their SEL skills and reduce bullying and aggression. This study will extend the reach and impact of our existing programs and provide necessary preliminary data for a future trial examining the effects of our programming across the full range of elementary school years. 

Finally, we are seeking funding to conduct a longitudinal survey study to understand behaviors, predictors, and outcomes related to cyberbullying among high school youth which will inform future prevention and intervention development efforts. 

This project page was last updated in October 2023.

Suggested Citation

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. School-based Interventions for Children to Prevent Aggression and Bullying and Promote Positive Social-emotional Skill Development [Online]. Available at: http://www.policylab.chop.edu. [Accessed: plug in date accessed here].