Tahoe-Truckee schools implementing social emotional readiness program
September 2, 2015
As the new school year begins, we feel the excitement and anticipation of children and families: new teachers, new subjects, and new social opportunities await.
This anticipation often heightens for kindergarteners and their parents. New kindergarteners leave home and the familiarity of preschools for the big world of K-five.
Coping with this transition can be a challenge for many children. Social-emotional and behavioral skills learned from birth to five can help ease this transition and set children up for a fun and successful kindergarten year.
Some of these skills include: listening, following directions, waiting, and getting along with others.
The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, with funding from First 5 Nevada County, is implementing a pilot program, Social Emotional School Readiness, in four community preschools to help children develop these important skills.
The program is fortunate enough to engage the services of Aaron Stabel, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. He provides professional development and supports designed to help schools and families nurture and grow positive child behaviors.
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Collaborative trainings for preschool teachers and parents are being scheduled. Along those lines, Mr. Stabel has shared some everyday tips for parents:
Child Behavior Tips for Parents
Parents are often the best teachers for their children. Moms and dads pour so much energy into preparing their little ones for school.
First words are celebrated with enthusiastic cheers. Family members give smiles and hugs when children identify new numbers and colors.
We read our children countless books to teach the importance of literacy. Our intuition as parent-teachers tells us to acknowledge and recognize pre-academic accomplishments to prepare our kids for school.
And yet, school success depends on more than learning ABCs and 123s. Social-emotional and behavioral skills are equally, if not more, important to school readiness and success.
Learning to wait or delayed gratification, working hard even when frustrated, controlling anger, and cooperation are examples of social-emotional skills essential to community, school, and eventually employment settings.
A child who knows all the alphabet letters, but cannot wait in line may have trouble at school, or a student who consistently throws tantrums when asked to help clean the classroom may encounter more conflict with teachers and peers.
The good news is that these skills can be taught. And, the same intuitive parenting used to teach pre-academics at home can be used to improve social-emotional readiness.
Acknowledge Small Successes
One way parents can teach social-emotional skills is to consistently acknowledge and celebrate small successes.
In the same way we praise our kids every time they learn a new word or draw a colorful picture, we can consistently acknowledge and celebrate our children's efforts and successes when they wait patiently for us to finish a phone call, control their emotions when we say, "No" in the candy isle, or when they help with family chores.
Several ways to celebrate social-emotional success include praise, hugs, high fives, smiles, and when your child hears you compliment them to others. These acknowledgements are even more powerful when you specifically describe your child's positive behaviors.
For example, "Anna, I am so proud of you for waiting in that long line with Daddy without whining! I'm going to tell Mommy how patient you were at the grocery store today!"
The Five-to-One Strategy
This strategy of acknowledging and celebrating good behavior has a lot of research to support its effectiveness, but there are several challenges for parents to remember.
First, we must make this strategy a regular habit. Studies suggest that reinforcing good behavior at least five times for every one time of redirection or discipline can improve cooperative play, compliance, self-esteem, academic performance, attention, and work productivity.
A five-to-one ratio of positive to negative interactions requires a lot of praise for good behavior!
Our tendency is to acknowledge and focus on redirecting bad behavior, so our ratios might be reversed.
Imagine only recognizing reading mistakes during story time. "No Dylan! That's not how you spell 'cat'! I'm very disappointed in you!"
A strong emphasis on mistakes could teach children to dislike reading and they might eventually give up.
Acknowledging and celebrating good behavior motivates a child to work hard, practice, and feel good about their efforts.
Practice and Celebrate
Remember that teaching social-emotional skills, like delayed gratification, work ethic, and self-control, is similar to teaching your child how to read.
Find many opportunities to practice, and frequently acknowledge and celebrate your child's successes.
Just like reading, these social-emotional skills will take time to learn, so be patient and enjoy your child's small steps toward improvement. Lastly, these strategies provide a strong foundation for future parenting tips we will provide, so now is a perfect time to practice!
Ruth Jackson Hall is Early Learning Coordinator for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. Aaron Stabel, BCBA, holds a Master's Degree in Behavioral Psychology and is director of Behavior Consultants International. Visit behaviorconsultantsinternational.com to learn more.
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