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Second Step®: A Violence Prevention Curriculum

Ages 4-14

Rating: Level 2


Second Step®: A Violence Prevention Curriculum is designed to reduce impulsive and aggressive behavior in children by increasing their social competency skills. 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.

Students are taught to reduce impulsive, high-risk, and aggressive behaviors and increase their socioemotional competence and other protective factors. Intended for use with a broad population of students, the program has proven effective in geographically diverse cities in the United States and Canada, in classrooms varying in ethnic/racial makeup (predominantly African-American, predominantly European-American, or highly racially mixed), and in schools with students of varied socioeconomic status.

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 own emotions and those of others)
  • 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)
  • Anger management (enables youths to manage emotional reactions and engage in decision-making when they are highly aroused)

The Second Step® curriculum for middle school students is composed of eight to fifteen 50-minute lessons per grade level organized into four units:

  • Unit 1 is centered on knowledge and describes violence as a societal problem.
  • Unit 2 trains students in empathy and encourages emotionality through learning to find common ground with others, avoid labeling and stereotyping, using “I” messages, and active listening.
  • Unit 3 combines anger management training and interpersonal problem-solving for reducing impulsive and aggressive behavior in adolescents.
  • Unit 4 applies the skills learned in previous units to five specific situations: making a complaint, dealing with peer pressure, resisting gang pressure, dealing with bullying, and diffusing a fight. Students learn modeling behaviors through role-plays and videotapes.


At least a dozen evaluations have been conducted on Second Step®: A Violence Prevention Curriculum. In the first randomized trial of Second Step®, Grossman and others (1997) used six pairs of matched schools involving the second and third grade classrooms of 12 elementary schools. Participating schools were matched based on school district, the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-cost school lunches, and the proportion of minority students. After matching, schools in each pair were randomly assigned to control or treatment groups. There were 418 intervention students and 372 control students. In the intervention group, 56.2 percent were male, 17.7 percent had prior behavioral problems, 23.1 percent were in special education, 86.4 percent lived in two-parent households, and 78.5 percent were white. In the control group, 50.8 were percent male, 22.5 percent had prior behavioral problems, 30.3 percent were in special education, 83.6 percent lived in two-parent households, and 80.1 percent were white. At baseline, intervention and control students were similar in levels of social competence and aggressive behavior as reported by teachers and parents. Outcome data was collected at three periods—before the start of the curriculum, 2 weeks following the conclusion of the program, and at follow-up 6 months after completion of the program. Data was collected through teacher and parent ratings. A second study by McMahon and others (2000) replicated the findings of the Grossman study with a low-income/high-risk, urban preschool and kindergarten population. The 2000 evaluation was similar to its predecessor but did not use a comparison group.

The most recent evaluation of the Second Step® curriculum involved 15 elementary schools (seven schools of kindergarten through fifth grade and eight schools of K–sixth grade) from three cities in western Washington (Frey, Nolen, Van Schoiack–Edstrom, and Hirschstein, 2005). Eleven of the schools were randomly assigned, seven to an intervention and four to a control group. The four other schools agreed to random assignment but were assigned to the control group. Schools in the intervention group and control groups did not differ with respect to ethnic makeup or percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch. The sample, which included 63 percent of the students in all the schools, consisted of 620 in the treatment group and 615 in the control group. Participants were ages 7–11 and were roughly divided by sex (48.2 percent female) and grade level (54.6 percent), with proportions equivalent in the two groups. Students were assessed by teacher ratings, self-report, and observation in two conflict situations.


The Grossman study found that immediately following the completion of the program, observed physically aggressive behavior decreased significantly and neutral/prosocial behavior increased significantly among children receiving the curriculum, compared with children in the control group. These results, however, primarily reflect differences observed on the playground and in the cafeteria, where social encounters are far more frequent, as opposed to classroom observations. In addition, these behavioral changes were not detected by parent and teacher reports. Finally, while some of the effects persisted at the 6-month follow-up, most of the significant differences between the intervention and control groups dissipated because of a decline in negative behavior in the control group.

The McMahon study found that both preschool and kindergarten children demonstrated significant gains in knowledge, based on interview scores, and significant decreases in problem behaviors, based on behavioral observations. Teacher ratings, however, did not change significantly.

The Frey study found that, when compared with children in the control group, those who participated in the Second Step® demonstrated significantly better outcomes in student behavior, prosocial goals, and social reasoning for the whole sample and for the smaller randomly assigned sample. Specifically, children in the intervention group required less adult intervention in minor conflicts and displayed less aggressive and (among girls) more cooperative behavior while negotiating than those in the control group. Intervention children were also more likely to prefer prosocial goals and give egalitarian reasons for satisfaction than control children. In addition, the findings showed some convergence between teacher-reported and directly observed behavior. Teachers in the 1st year of student participation reported clear increases in social competence and decreases in antisocial behavior relative to the control group. These improvements, however, were marginal in the 2nd year of program participation. It was unclear whether the increased rate of social development occurred only in the 1st year or whether the teachers failed to notice continued improvement.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Lack of guilt and empathy
  • Life stressors
  • Poor refusal skills
  • Victimization and exposure to violence


  • Family history of the problem behavior/Parent criminality
  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Family transitions
  • Family violence
  • Parental use of physical punishment/Harsh and/or erratic discipline practices
  • Sibling antisocial behavior


  • Inadequate school climate/Poorly organized and functioning schools/Negative labeling by teachers
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school


  • Community crime/High crime neighborhood
  • Economic deprivation/Poverty/Residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood
  • Neighborhood youth in trouble
  • Social and physical disorder/Disorganized neighborhood


  • Association with delinquent and/or aggressive peers

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family
  • Opportunities for prosocial family involvement
  • Rewards for prosocial family involvement


  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Rewards for prosocial school involvement


  • Clear social norms / Policies with sanctions for violations and rewards for compliance
  • Nondisadvantaged neighborhood
  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources
  • Safe environment / Low neighborhood crime


  • Good relationships with peers
  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


  • SAMHSA: Model Programs
  • Department of Education


Carlo, Gustavo, George P. Knight, Nancy Eisenberg, and Kenneth J. Rotenberg. 1991. “Cognitive Processes and Prosocial Behaviors Among Children: The Role of Affective Attributions and Reconciliations.” Developmental Psychology 27:456–61.

Crick, Nicki R., and Kenneth A. Dodge. 1994. “A Review and Reformulation of Social Information–Processing Mechanisms in Children’s Social Adjustment.” Psychological Bulletin 115:74–101.

Frey, Karin S., Susan B. Nolen, Leihua Van Schoiack–Edstrom, and Miriam K. Hirschstein. 2005. “Effects of a School-Based Social Competence Program: Linking Children’s Goals, Attributions, and Behavior. ” The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 26:171–200.

Grossman, David C., Holly J. Neckerman, Thomas D. Koepsell, Ping–Yu Liu, Kenneth N. Asher, Kathy Beland, Karin S. Frey, and Frederick P. Rivara. 1997. “Effectiveness of a Violence Prevention Curriculum Among Children in Elementary School.” The Journal of the American Medical Association 277:1605–11.

Halberstadt, Amy G., Susanne Denham, and Julie C. Dunsmore. 2001. “Affective Social Competence.” Emotional Social Development 10:79–119.

Izard, Caroll E., Sarah E. Fine, David Schultz, Allison J. Mostow, and Brian P. Ackerman. 2001. “Emotion Knowledge and Social Behavior.” Psychological Science 12:18–23.

Litvack–Miller, Willa, Daniel McDougall, and David M. Romney. 1997. “The Structure of Empathy During Middle Childhood and Its Relationship to Prosocial Behavior.” Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs 123:303–24.

McMahon, Susan D., and Jason J. Washburn. 2003. “Violence Prevention: An Evaluation of Program Effects With Urban African-American Students.” The Journal of Primary Prevention 24(1):43–62.

McMahon, Susan D., Jason J. Washburn, Felix J. Yakin, and Gary Childrey. 2000. “Violence Prevention: Program Effects on Urban Preschool and Kindergarten Children.” Applied and Preventive Psychology 9:271–81.

Nelson, W. Michael III, and Alfred J. Finch, Jr. 2000. “Managing Anger in Youth: A Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention Approach.” In Philip C. Kendall (ed.). Child and Adolescent Therapy: Cognitive-Behavioral Procedures. New York, N.Y.: Guilford, 16:129–70.

Orpinas, Pamela, Guy S. Parcel, Alfred McAlister, and Ralph F. Frankowski. 1995. “Violence Prevention in Middle Schools: A Pilot Evaluation.” Journal of Adolescent Health 17:360–71.

Taub, Jennifer. 2002. “Evaluation of the Second Step® Violence Prevention Program at a Rural Elementary School.” School Psychology Review 31:186–200.

Van Schoiack–Edstrom, Leihua, Karin S. Frey, and Kathy Beland. 2002. “Changing Adolescents’ Attitudes About Relational and Physical Aggression: An Early Evaluation of a School-Based Intervention.” School Psychology Review 31:201–16.

Wentzel, Kathryn R., and Allan Wigfield. 1998. “Academic and Social Motivational Influences on Students’ Academic Performance.” Educational Psychology Review 10:155–75.


Customer Services
Committee for Children
568 First Avenue South, Suite 600
Seattle, WA 98104–2804
Phone: (800) 634-4449
Web site:

Technical Assistance Provider

Customer Services
Committee for Children
568 First Avenue South, Suite 600
Seattle, WA 98104–2804
Phone: (800) 634-4449
Web site: