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Help kids develop social intelligence to address issues of bullying

Research shows the importance of developing social and emotional resiliency to preventing problems like bullying.

If you’re concerned about issues of bullying, don’t overlook the importance of helping young people develop social intelligence. While emotional intelligence is about developing self-awareness and an increased ability to notice and navigate our thoughts and emotions, social intelligence focuses on our sensitivity to how others feel and on our capacity to nurture and navigate relationships. People who bully others may lack social skills of empathy, sharing, listening and negotiating that are part of healthy relationships.

The phrase “social intelligence” first emerged in the 1920s as a way to describe the kind of interpersonal effectiveness that is vital to success in many areas of life – including leadership development. Now, decades later, neuroscience is helping us understand the connection between our emotional lives and our social relationships. Research shows that our interactions and relationships with others actually have the power to shape our brains! In short, healthy relationships nourish and support our overall health and well-being, while toxic or unhealthy relationships can threaten to poison us emotionally, spiritually and physically. The capacity to develop healthy relationships is particularly important in today’s world where many people are increasingly isolated and anonymous due to online social networking, video games and other media use – as well as larger societal and community factors.

Having supportive friendships and learning to get along with peers are critical goals of positive youth development. Youth workers, educators, parents and other adults in the lives of youth have important roles to play in helping young people develop social intelligence and skills for social resiliency.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Research shows that children who are well-liked by their peers are better able to express their emotions in appropriate ways, and they are better able to manage their own negative emotions such as anger, nervousness and sadness. Help kids develop the ability to be self-reflective and able to observe and witness themselves. Help them learn to notice and name their feelings – and learn to communicate their feelings with others in appropriate ways.
  • Help children and youth learn the skills of empathy which means being able to sense and understand the feelings or emotions of others. Talk openly and regularly about feelings in real-life situations (or examples they see in the media). Ask young people what they notice and what they believe people are feeling based on their facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and other factors.
  • Research shows that our brains are wired to connect to the brains of others which is essential for developing rapport and healthy relationships. Give your full attention to children and youth so that they can experience this important connection. Try turning off the TV, putting down your smart phone and other electronic devices and focusing your full attention on the person you’re with. Really tune in and listen to people. Model this essential skill – and teach kids to do the same.
  • Teach young people the skills they need to navigate difficult situations like bullying. Help them learn to respond in ways that are confident and assertive – rather than aggressive, violent, submissive or passive.

One helpful resource that provides skill development in these areas is the Education Development Center’s Eyes on Bullying toolkit. This free resource includes information on bullying and activities that adults can use with young people to build their skills in responding in ways that can develop emotional and social intelligence.

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