Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Short-Term Efficacy of a Primary Prevention Program for the Development of Social-Emotional Competencies in Preschool Children

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

Short-Term Efficacy of a Primary Prevention Program for the Development of Social-Emotional Competencies in Preschool Children

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Social-emotional competencies constitute protective factors against the development of early onset behavioral problems. Also, both social as well as emotional competencies are relatively stable across lifespan, from preschool to adulthood. As a result, the optimal development of such competencies in preschoolers would have long term positive effects. However, there are only a few empirically validated prevention programs aiming the social-emotional competence development in preschool children. Our goal was to develop a primary prevention program implemented at classroom level, targeting 5-year-old preschool children (N=52). In order to assess the efficacy of the program, we used a quasi-experimental design. The intervention yielded significant differences between the experimental and control group on all measures in the expected direction, except for social competencies evaluated by parents. Besides statistic significance, the size effects were in the medium and large range, providing further practical relevance for the intervention. In sum, the intervention proved its short-term effectiveness, but more data on medium and long-term effects are needed to draw final conclusions.

KEYWORDS: prevention program, social-emotional competence, preschool.

Recent empirical evidence has shown that social-emotional competencies are important predictors of school readiness (Greenberg, Weissberg, O'Brien, Zins, Fredericks, Resnick, & Elias, 2003; Linares, Rosbruch, Stern, Edwards, Walker, Abikoff, & Alvir, 2005) and constitute protective factors against the development of mental health problems (Brotman, Gouley, Chesir-Teran, Dennis, Klein, & Shrout, 2005; Kelly, Longbottom, Potts, & Williamson, 2005; Webster-Stratton & Reid, 2003). Children who lack well developed social-emotional competencies are especially at risk for developing early onset behavioral problems and 50% of the children exhibiting these symptoms in preschool will later acquire a type of behavioral disorder (Webster-Stratton & Taylor, 2001), which may be associated with substance abuse and juvenile delinquency in adolescence (Brotman et al., 2005; Engels, Finkenauer, Meeus, & Dekovic, 2001). In consequence, it seems that early intervention by developing social-emotional competencies during preschool is an adequate time frame for preventing early onset behavioral problems (Ramey & Ramey, 2004; Rapee, Kennedy, Ingram, Edwards, & Sweeney, 2005). Moreover, a number of well established prevention programs (e.g., The Incredible Years, Fast Track, Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) highlight that the development of social-emotional competencies is associated with lower levels of behaviors predictive of mental health problems, especially conduct disorders (for a review, see Webster-Stratton & Taylor, 2001).

Prevention programs targeting the social-emotional competencies fall into three major categories (Durlak & Wells, 1998): 1) primary prevention programs aimed at the general population; 2) secondary prevention programs for children at risk; and 3) tertiary prevention programs for children with already existing mental health problems. Our focus will be on a primary prevention program consisting of activities implemented in the classroom by the teacher. Such universal interventions, including all children from the classroom, have proved their effectiveness in enhancing children's social-emotional competencies mostly because they allow learning and practice of the taught skills in an ecological environment (Domitrovich, Cortes, & Greenberg, 2007; Kam, Greenberg, & Kusche, 2004). Our goal is to develop a curriculum of activities aimed at: 1) developing emotional (e.g., emotion recognition, emotion expression, empathy) and social competencies (e.g., prosocial behaviors) in preschool children; and 2) reducing aggressive behavior, which is a risk factor associated with early onset behavior problems. …

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