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How Teachers Can Promote Prosocial Behavior in Students

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January 02, 2024


Bullying is arguably one of the most significant challenges our schools face today. Bullying happens often and sometimes results in catastrophic consequences. Kids who are victims of bullying have a hard time learning, they have reduced self-esteem, and are susceptible to depression. In the worst cases, bullying has led to suicide or violence toward other students (many school shooters were, themselves, bullied).

So, how do we help reduce bullying in our schools? We consider bullying or other aggressive behaviors to be antisocial (in this context, antisocial doesn’t mean you dislike parties, it actually means that you do things that harm others in some way, whether physically, emotionally, etc.). The antidote to this is to teach our kids the opposite: prosocial behaviors.

What Is Prosocial Behavior?

Prosocial behavior has many different definitions but simply put:

Prosocial behavior is acting in a positive direction toward someone else.

A kind word, sharing with a friend, helping others, or giving to others; these are all prosocial. Children tend to be very self-focused, so prosocial behaviors don’t always come naturally to them.

Why do kids bully? No one knows for sure what causes kids to bully others, but we do know it is often about control. Kids who are bullied or bully often have low self-esteem or have adopted negative attitudes. Kids who are bullied especially tend not to have very many friends. Just one good friend can help a child who is bullied to stand up and not be a victim anymore. To fix bullying, efforts must be made to support both the bullies and the victims. Check out the proven effect conflict management series, BeCOOL® to teach your K-12 classes how to effectively deal with and reduce bullying.

More and more it seems that schools have a lot on their plates, but unfortunately, many children aren’t coming into schools with the social skills they need. Schools have to teach these to kids so they can learn. If a child is a victim of bullying, they often can’t focus on school. Without meaningful friendships, children withdraw, and many times struggle in school.

How Can Schools Help Kids Develop Excellent Social Skills?

Give Teachers Tools: Give teachers the tools they need to teach social skills. Teachers need training on how to teach social skills. It’s likely you had pedagogy courses on math, social studies, or whatever discipline you currently teach. Social skills are challenging to explain yet often not covered in professional development. Teachers also need a curriculum to follow. It’s not realistic to expect a teacher to integrate social skills teaching without giving them the tools to do so.

A great curriculum to use is the LifeSmart series. This humorous, engaging curriculum is easy to implement and uses VideoModeling™ to teach students the best ways (and the worst) to handle social situations. With LifeSmart, students learn these valuable life skills vicariously – they get to see exactly what happens with each kind of response, yet don’t have to endure the consequences of making a social mistake.

Build a School Community: Be a good model by creating a school community. Staff members should build positive relationships with one another. This creates a model that kids can look up to when kids see adults having positive interactions with each other.

Focus on Positives Not Punishment: Foster intrinsic motivation through genuine, concrete effort focused praise (e.g. ‘You worked hard’ rather than ‘good job’). Children are much more motivated to earn something than to have things taken away. Make expectations clear and be consistent on the follow through.

Determine where the child is in their process and help them move to the next step. A child’s ability to be prosocial follows a predictable pattern of development. As the book Guiding Children’s Social Development states, we can view the development of prosocial skills as a three-part process:

“First, in the recognition step, a child must be able to determine if someone needs help.

Second, the child must decide whether to help or not to act.

Third, a child must act by selecting and performing an appropriate behavior for that situation.”

Prosocial behavior is not limited to times where there is an issue. Students can also exhibit prosocial behavior in events such as initiating play or conversations.

More Ways To Help Students In The Classroom

Practice: Kids need opportunities to practice. Just like every other skill children will learn, they must practice prosocial behavior to be successful. Recess or other free times are built-in practice. It is also a good idea to have some guided free play time where children are free to choose their activities, but adults are around to provide positive reinforcement and guidance. Role play is a great tactic for this!

If you’re unsure where to start, try using Making The Effort™ – a proven effective program from the James Stanfield Company that teaches students the value of and how to apply effort for success in social situations.

Connect With Kids: Kids need to feel loved, safe and secure to engage in prosocial behavior. Try to make individual connections with kids. If you have a large class, this can be a challenge but something such as a special greeting at the door, a hug, high five, or handshake at the end of the day, or highlighting a specific student as the special helper for that day can help you bond with the students in your class.

Encourage Prosocial Behaviors in Students

Being able to effectively deal with conflict and be friendly toward others is crucial for adults and kids alike. Starting young and continually practicing these social skills will help your students succeed in the school and around their community for years to come.

By: Amy Curletto

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.


  1. Kostelnik, Marjorie J. Guiding Children’s Social Development and Learning. Wadsworth, 2012.
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