This study was conducted in order to identify practical ways for teachers to create a socially inclusive environment for children who demonstrate persistent challenging behaviors (PCBs) and/or who have social-emotional delays.01 Jun 2023
Social Inclusion of Children with Persistent Challenging Behaviors
August 7, 2022
This study was conducted in order to identify practical ways for teachers to create a socially inclusive environment for children who demonstrate persistent challenging behaviors (PCBs) and/or who have social-emotional delays.
Main Reasons for the Challenging Behavior
The existing research suggests that there are two main reasons why some children demonstrate persistent challenging behaviors:
1) They are enrolled in school before they have developed the social-emotional readiness for the demands of group care, including managing emotions and getting along with peers.
2) They have delays in other developmental areas, such as play skills, speech and language development, and motor development.
Furthermore, there is a growing body of evidence to show that children who demonstrate PCBs are vulnerable to significant long-term effects from exclusionary disciplinary practices such as suspension and expulsion, along with a higher risk of academic difficulties leading to grade retention. Children who engage in PCBs typically find the social-emotional skill gap widening as they progress through school.
Recommendations for Working With Children With Challenging Behavior
This paper puts forth the authors’ recommendations, based on extant research, on the best practices that early childhood teachers can adopt to create an inclusive, prosocial environment for children with PCBs. They describe interventions that can be put into practice immediately, including example “scripts” for how these can be rolled out in the classroom. The authors recommend the following classroom-based supports for working with children who engage in PCBs:
- Ensure equitable and active participation for these children in the social milieu of the classroom through facilitation of the appropriate social interactions. This must be explicitly modeled by the teacher through role play, ideally utilizing the child who struggles with PCB as a partner so that their peers view them as an example of prosocial behavior.
- During any social skills instruction, teaching should take place in three phases: first, the teacher introduces the expected behavior and explains its importance; second, the teacher models the social skill and allows the children to practice it; and third, the teacher provides ongoing corrective feedback and behavior-specific praise.
- Classroom activities should be carefully planned to incorporate a variety of social interaction types and to be inclusive of children who demonstrate PCBs. Considering the background experiences of these children as well as their interests and abilities can make or break participation. Equally important is creating a physically intuitive and well-organized classroom that allows for both large- and small-group activities.
The Benefits of Creating an Inclusive Environment
Teachers who seek to create a socially inclusive environment – meaning one that actively integrates children with PCBs into the classroom community, ensures that they have equitable opportunities to participate in social activities, and promotes positive and reciprocal social relationships with peers and adults alike – can expect to see a decrease in PCB.
With this in mind, researchers and policy-makers would do well to consider the professional development needs of early childhood educators, providing more opportunities for teachers to engage in training specific to the social inclusion of children with PCB.
“As children age, the skill gap related to social-emotional functioning widens for children who engage in PCBs, leaving them at higher risk of being referred to special education and/or retention.”
“Despite the use of exclusionary disciplinary practices with children, there is no evidence to show that they decrease PCBs (Meek et al., 2020). Instead, the consequence of suspension on children who engage in PCBs is decreased time in the classroom (Loson and Gillespie, 2012) which can be detrimental to their social-emotional development (Skiba et al., 2014).”
“Schools and classrooms that promote positive climates report lower rates of PCBs and suspensions, which is important for children to feel welcomed and have an environment where they are able to develop prosocial behaviors (Farmer et al., 2018; Merritt et al., 2012; Skiba et al., 2014).”
The notion that children benefit from discrete and explicit instruction for social skills is not new, but one that truly benefits from repeating. The current paper presents highly practical advice for teachers seeking to implement this type of instruction in their classrooms, with details on when and how such teaching could take place. Early childhood educators may be reassured to know that these techniques, which may be familiar to them already, are backed by rigorous research evidence. I would argue that these strategies can also be applied to older struggling students.
McGuire, S. N., & Meadan, H. (2022). Social Inclusion of Children with Persistent Challenging Behaviors. Early Childhood Education Journal, 50(1), 61-69. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-020-01135-4.