Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pet Therapy

I've always heard that pets were very theraputic for young children, but after reading two articles that shared this information in more detail, I am definitely interested in investing in a pet!

Pets have been shown to help children learn several social skills. They can gain a better understanding of others' perspectives, such as learning that a dog's tucked in tail explains that he's scared and a cat's arched back with fur standing up shows that it's angry or annoyed (Melson, 2007). With additional teaching, adults can compare this non-verbal communication with that which people use every day. Children can also learn self-calming and impulse control as they must remember to maintain body control when handling pets or the pets will not want to be touched or held (Flom, 2005). After learning this behavior around pets and comparing animal behavior to human behavior, they can also learn how their behavior affects how their peers respond to them as well. Taking care of pets can also teach child about responsibility for students who struggle to complete daily assignments or chores will see the benefit of reliability (Flom, 2005). In addition, students with hygiene and grooming concerns can gain a better understanding of the importance of regular cleaning and grooming without feeling ashamed (Flom, 2005). Often, these students don't see or understand why others make fun of them when they have not taken care of themselves.

Overall, giving children pets gives them the opportunity to build close relationships with others. They learn to give and take attention, nurture, and play appropriately with an animal and they can learn to do the same with a peer as well (Melson, 2007). Here are some things to think about when considering including a pet in your family:

1) What kind of pet is most appropriate for my child? Check with a pet store and bring your child if possible to help make the decision.
2) If I'm not going to have a pet in the family, what are some other ways that I can include animals to help my child understand social skills? Perhaps play with animal puppets? Borrow a friend's pet for the day? Visit the zoo or aquarium?

Parents can also read fictional animal stories to teach social skills in a playful manner. Arthur and Berenstein Bears books often discuss typical issues that occur in life and families can read them and discuss problem solving afterwards.

The Basic Three Behavior Management Strategies

When I first began teaching in the preschool setting, I spent a lot of time observing other preschool teachers to gain new insight on behavior management and I found that many of them used the same three basic behavior management strategies I will mention below. Although they were first researched and recommended over fourty years ago, they still work today and they don't require much preparation or work.

The three basic behavior strategies include praise, ignoring, and rules. Praise has shown to be effective when it is received immediately after an appropriate behavior and it is consistent (Hester et al, 2009). Children who seek adult attention will often behave well if they know they will receive positive feedback from an adult. Regarding ignoring behavior, when parents or teachers consistently ignore disruptive behavior that is not destructive to self or others, these challenging behaviors often subside. If adults ignore the behavior and praise other students, the students with challenging behaviors often replace their challenging behavior with appropriate behavior, as they find that they will seek the attention they need by behaving in this manner instead (Hester et al, 2009). Lastly, rules in the classroom have been effective in managing behavior when they are simplified so students can understand them and they are enforceable (Hester et al, 2009). Often adults give students too many rules with too many words that are hard to remember and understand and then we wonder why students don't follow them. In addition, we also set unrealistic rules and we can't hold accountability for them so students aren't motivated to follow them either. When directing your children or a group of students, it's important to always keep the level of understanding at the level of the youngest child in the family or group so that everyone involved can realistically understand and follow them.

When reflecting on this summary, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
1) How often do I praise my child? Do I praise my child as much as I discipline/command him/her?
2) What are appropriate behaviors to ignore? What is my plan for those behaviors I cannot ignore?
3) Does our family have a simple and understandable set of rules? Does my child know these rules?

A fun idea to implement this strategy is to plan a date night with your child. Go somewhere special and take time to talk with him/her individually, making sure you praise your child for something specific you love about him/her and affirm your child for something he/she has done well that day or week. This would also be a great time to not focus on the little inappropriate behaviors so that you can have a positive interaction together. Lastly, take time to positively review the home rules, check for understanding, and discuss any problem solving ideas together to help your child to continue following the rules.

Engaging with the disengaged reader

Although most of our students aren't reading at this age, it's great to get them excited about reading with us, talking about stories/pictures in the book and labeling common letters or words they see as well. At school, I often hear families tell me that their children won't sit for them or they aren't motivated to read with them. I hope that the information below will help you in this area.

I recently read about some creative strategies to avoid challenging behavior during reading time. First, it is important to take the time to converse with the child to discover his/her interests, strengths, and personal events in life. By taking the time to get to know the child, adults can learn which topical books might interest the child and why the child may not be motivated to read at the time (Demos & Foshay, 2010). In addition, many children are not motivated to read with adults because they don't have confidence in their reading skills. Parents and teachers should be cautious about the number of posing questions they ask children during reading time, making sure to build confidence in knowledge by starting to read at level that is comfortable to the child, slowly building on simple comments and questions to use while reading (Demos & Foshay, 2010). Given the opportunity to read about a topic of interest and not feel the pressure to perform, children will feel more comfortable reading with adults. Lastly, it is important to involve students in everyday reading through other avenues such as the computer, newspapers or magazines, and simple fliers send home from school. As children read these materials, they will learn the importance of reading in everyday life as well and they may be more motivated to read overall (Demos & Foshay, 2010).

When reflecting upon this information, take the time to ask yourself these questions below:
1) What are my child's interests? Do I have any books/materials about these topics?
2) Have I organized a day to visit the library with my child to give him/her the opportunity to look at a variety of materials and choose/check out his/her own materials?
3) When I read with my child, what kinds of comments or questions do I make? What do I need to say to avoid any pressure I may be giving to my child?

Setting aside a regular time each day is an easy way to help you and your child read more together. Give your child the opportunity to choose the time and location. Perhaps you can bring a special stuffed animal or blanket to help your child remain calm and relaxed or you can set up a motivating activity afterwards to reward your child for remaining with you during the reading time. And most importantly, have fun!

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy

At school, there have been times when I have noticed that I do not have the best of attitudes about certain students in the classroom because of their challenging behavior. I don't like this feeling, as I know that these students are struggling as well and they have special strengths that I often don't focus on because I'm spending so much time dealing with their challenges. Recently, I found an article that helped me get my focus back on building positive relationships with my students. I found that when I focused more on building relationships with these students, they often responded more positive to my behavior management interventions as well. I believe that this model can be used both at school at at home, as kids don't care what we know until they know that we care.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy or PCIT is a researched based method that involves training parents to focus on having a positive relationship with their children while learning effective ways to manage challenging behaviors. This model has also been successfully implemented in the preschool classroom. The first phase of this model is to learn how to build positive and meaningful interactions with children (Gershenson et al, 2010). Children are motivated to listen to adults who take the time to know them. During the second phase, parents are encouraged to avoid commands or criticism and to focus on "PRIDE" skills which include praise, reflection, imitation, descriptions of behavior, and enthusiasm (Gershenson et al, 2010). By reflecting upon issues to problem solve together in a positive manner, students are more likely to elicit more positive behaviors.

So before you have another negative experience with your child today, ask yourself these questions:

1) Have I spent much time playing with my child today?
2) When I think of a common challenging behavior that will reoccur, how can I respond in a positive way?
3) How can I include my child in solving this problem?

For basic problem solving techniques, the PCIT model suggests to introduce the problem at a later time, then model appropriate behavior. Last, role play the skills to strengthen your child's ability to behave appropriately next time (Gershenson et al, 2010).

What's this behavior all about?

From my experience in the preschool classroom, I found that staff had various opinions about the purpose of students’ challenging behaviors. We were unable to successfully assist students with behavior challenges until we all learned how to assess why children behaved in certain manners. After learning how to conduct functional behavior assessments, I believe we all gained a better understanding that behavior is communication. Instead of thinking of challenges as “bad behavior,” we can study students’ behavior as a manner in which they communicating their needs.

Families and school staff must follow specific steps in learning students’ needs, or the function of their behavior. They should observe and record the behavior occurring on a regular basis, describing events that occur right before the behavior, the challenging behavior itself, and the event that occurs right after the behavior (Hester et al, 2009). By observing the patterns in this information, families and school staff are able to determine the purpose of children’s behavior so that they are able to correctly implement strategies to match the behavior. Below is an example of a graph used in recording this information.

(What occurs right before the behavior?)
(What is the challenging behavior)
(What occurs right after the behavior?)
Johnny is instructed to write his name
Johnny throws class materials
Johnny gets a time out, misses out on work
Johnny is instructed to do a cutting project
Johnny throws class materials
Johnny gets a time out, misses out on work
Johnny is given manipulatives for play
Johnny throws class materials
Johnny gets a time out, misses manips
Johnny is instructed to write his name
Johnny throws class materials
Johnny gets a time out, misses out on work

It is important to note that the purpose of behavior is to escape or obtain something (Hester et al, 2009). After observing the pattern above, family and staff can see that Johnny always throws materials after a fine motor activity is introduced. In addition, he is able to escape completing the activity after his outburst occurs.  Family and school staff can presume that the function of Johnny’s behavior is that he throws classroom materials to escape fine motor activities.
After learning the purpose of a student’s behavior, it is important to create positive behavior supports that help the student replace the challenging behavior with appropriate behavior that helps him/her achieve the same result (Hester et al, 2009). For example, given fine motor activities, Johnny can ask for a break to achieve his goal of escaping an activity. After realizing that they cannot avoid giving Johnny fine motor projects, the family and school staff could also create accommodations or modifications to the projects to make them less frustrating for Johnny. Eventually, they would seek to challenge Johnny over time so that he could complete more complex fine motor tasks when he is ready for them.
So when looking at your child/student’s challenging behavior, think about the events that occur right before and after the behavior and ask yourself, “What is he/she seeking to obtain or escape?” After understanding the child’s specific needs, you will be able to create more appropriate strategies to address his/her challenging behavior.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I thought I could do this parenting thing on my own, but...

How come these strategies seem to work for my friends' kids, but not for mine?

What can I do now to make sure my child doesn't continue in this pattern of behavior?

I've made these comments to myself both as a mother as well as a teacher. After researching about behavior strategies for preschool students, I'd like to share some information with you to help you feel more confident in your parenting.