Second Step®: A Violence Prevention Curriculum

Program Goals/Target Population

Second Step®: A Violence Prevention Curriculum is a universal prevention program designed to reduce impulsive and aggressive behavior in children and adolescents by increasing their social competency skills. Students are taught to reduce impulsive, high-risk, and aggressive behaviors and increase their socioemotional competence and other protective factors.

The program is composed of three grade-specific curricula: preschool/kindergarten (Pre-K), elementary school (grades 1–5), and middle school (grades 6–8). The curricula are designed for teachers and other youth service providers to present in a classroom or other group setting. A parent education component, “A Family Guide to Second Step®” for Pre-K through grade 5, is also available.

Program Components

The Second Step® elementary curriculum consists of 15 to 22 thirty-five-minute lessons per grade level taught once or twice a week. Group discussion, modeling, coaching, and practice are used to increase students’ social competence, risk assessment, decision-making ability, self-regulation, and positive goal setting. The program’s lesson content varies by grade level and is organized into three skill-building units covering the following:

  • Empathy Training: teaches young people to identify and understand their emotions and those of others. Emotional understanding, prediction, and communication are taught as core skills.
  • Impulse Control and Problem Solving: helps young people choose positive goals, reduce impulsiveness, and evaluate consequences of their behavior in terms of safety, fairness, and impact on others. Students repeatedly practice generating and evaluating solutions to social problems.
  • Anger Management: enables youth people to manage emotional reactions and engage in decision making when they are highly aroused. Cognitive–behavioral techniques such as self-talk and attention control are emphasized in this unit.

In all of the units, students practice specific behavioral skills that are meant to serve as building blocks for social problem solving, including resisting negative peer pressure, apologizing, and showing appreciation.

The Second Step® curriculum for middle school students is composed of 8 to 15 fifty-minute lessons per grade level organized into five major themes: empathy and communication; bullying prevention; emotion management and coping; problem solving, decision making, and goal setting; and substance abuse prevention. The middle school program is designed to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors for adolescent youth. Risk factors targeted by the program include favorable attitudes towards problem behaviors (such as aggression or substance abuse), inappropriate classroom behavior, peer rejection, and impulsiveness. Protective factors that are targeted include social skills, school connectedness and engagement with teachers and positive peers, and adoption of convention norms about substance abuse and school achievement.

Intervention ID

5 to 12


Study 1

Teacher Ratings of Social Behavior

Frey and colleagues (2005) found that overall there were some significant program effects detected during the first year of the Second Step® program; however many of those effects were not noticed during the second year of the program. During the first year of program implementation, among those students who had a high antisocial baseline rating, the intervention group showed significantly greater declines in antisocial behavior than the control group. Among students with a low antisocial baseline rating, intervention students showed no change in antisocial behavior, whereas control students’ antisocial behavior increased (a significant difference). However, there were no significant group differences in antisocial behavior change during year 2 of the study, regardless of antisocial baseline rating.

During the first year of the program, the intervention group showed significant gains in social competence compared to the control group. There were similar significant gains observed for the intervention group during the second year as well, but they were not as substantial as the first-year gains. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) analyses confirmed the group differences in measures of antisocial behavior and social competence in the first year, but the analyses did not confirm the group differences in social competence observed during the second year.

Student Ratings of Hostile Attributions and Intentions

The preliminary analyses of students’ responses to surveys that assessed attributions of hostile goals from hypothetical vignettes of ambiguous provocations found the behavioral intentions had nearly identical patterns of responses to the ambiguous and non-ambiguous provocations. There were no significant differences between groups in hostile attributions and behavioral intentions during both years.

Prisoner’s Dilemma Game

Analyses of the students’ outcomes when playing the Prisoner’s Dilemma game showed some significant differences between the groups. The goals chosen by the intervention group were significantly more likely to be prosocial than those chosen by the control group. Students in the control group expected greater satisfaction for the self-high outcome than intervention group students. However, the groups did not differ in the proportion of cooperative choices made between the pair of students, and there were no group differences in the outcome of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game. The intervention group students were more satisfied with the game outcome and prize division than control students. Although HLM analyses confirmed the group difference in satisfaction with the prize division, the analyses did not confirm the difference in satisfaction with the game outcome.

Study 2

Overall, Schick and Cierpka (2005) found significant improvements among students in the experimental group in measures of anxiety, but there were few significant differences in other measures. There were also significant differences between experimental and control group girls in some behavioral measures, but not between boys in both groups.

Structured Interviews with Students

At posttest, experimental students reported a significantly reduced fear of loss of control compared to the control group. However, there were no significant differences between the groups in measures of fear of being injured and fear of bad things happening. There were also no significant differences in measures of empathy, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Measures of peer acceptance showed students in the control group felt significantly more accepted by their peers than students in the experimental group. Although aggressive behaviors were significantly reduced for girls and boys in both the experimental and control groups, experimental group girls assessed themselves to be significantly more aggressive than control group girls.

Parent Ratings of Student’s Behavior

The outcome measures showed that parents of students in the experimental group rated their children as exhibiting significantly less anxiety/depression problems compared to ratings from parents of control group students. However, there were no other significant differences between experimental and control group parents in any other measures on the Child Behavior Checklist (including social withdrawal, social problems, attention problems, delinquent behavior, and aggressive behavior). There were also no significant differences between parents’ rating on measures of self-control, assertiveness, and cooperation/social rules.

Teacher Ratings of Student’s Behavior

There were no significant differences between experimental and control group teacher ratings on student’s behaviors measured by the Landau scales of social climate in the classes (LASSO), including measures of rivalry between classmates, aggression against classmates, and extent of clique formation. There was a significant decrease in the extent of discrimination against classmates, but that decrease was observed for both groups.

Study 3

Social Competence

Holsen, Smith, and Frey (2008) found mixed results when examining the outcomes of the Steg and Steg program, the Norwegian version of Second Step®. The posttest measures of social competence were significantly higher in the sixth-grade intervention group than in their comparison group. There was also a significant increase in social competence scores when examining the seventh-grade intervention group, but only for girls.

Problem Behaviors

For externalizing behaviors, there was a significant decrease in the measures for grade 6, but only for boys. There were no significant effects found for either sex in grade 7. There were also no significant differences between the intervention and comparison groups with regard to the self-reported measure of internalizing problem behaviors for either grade.

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