Sunday, July 1, 2012

Counseling Preschool Students

This article focused on developing a group counseling program for preschool children to develop their self esteem, emotional awareness, and interpersonal social skills.  Previous research has stated that aggressive and defiant behavior at a young age can have long-term affects into adulthood such as depression, substance abuse, early parenthood, and poor quality relationships.  This study attempted to see if a group intervention could increase preschoolers awareness of emotions as well as decrease their teachers perception of their disruptive behaviors.
A red flag went off in my mind when I began reading about their participant selection. Because there was only one preschool class in the public school district where the study took place, it was a convenience population that didn’t include recruiting, screening, or sampling.  This definitely limits the ability to generalize this study.  This made me wonder about the rationale of their study.  As a teacher I do see the benefits of early prevention of behavioral issues in children, but it didn’t seem that their community was the best choice for this study.  One positive aspect of their participant selection was it included a diverse ethnic makeup of children and four of the eleven children were currently receiving special education services. 
In the study they used two different measures to evaluate the groups effectiveness.  The Emotional Identification Measure (EIM) was developed by the researchers doing the study and made me a little suspicious.   By creating their own assessment, there are not any previous studies that support its validity and reliability.  Even though the EIM is just a series of pictures depicting different facial emotions, there could be some inaccuracy or limits in regards to representing the correct response.  The second measure they used, the Child Behavior Checklist (CBC), is an empirically based assessment that has been repeatedly administered in over 40 U.S. states so I felt it was a smart choice.  It analyzes ratings by parents and teachers in the areas of anxious/obsessive behaviors, depressed/withdrawn behaviors, fears, attention problems, aggressive behaviors, somatic problems, and immature behaviors.  This was used as a pre and post assessment in order to see if the goals were reached from an adult’s perspective.
 The group structure I initially felt was not appropriate for 3 and 4 year olds.  I agreed with meeting twice a week for four weeks because younger children need a lot of repetition, but each session was to last 75 minutes.  This is an extremely long session knowing that children of that age do not have an attention span of longer than 5-10 minutes.  However, after reading on I discovered that the session was broken into smaller components that followed a routine.  They would introduce the feeling topic of the day and discuss their ideas related to it, bibliotherapy that supported the feeling would be read and discussed, followed by a structured activity that reinforced the material presented thus far.  The next component I didn’t think was appropriate for the age group.  Children were given a homework assignment to talk to their family at home about the feeling presented that day.  A sticker was given to them to help remember and parents were asked to inquire about the feeling of the day with their child.  From my knowledge, I feel it is a lot of responsibility for a child of this age to hold a discussion at home about this topic and be able to summarize, synthesize, and remember the information two days later to share.  I did like that they incorporated centers in the classroom that extended the feeling into cooperative play to reinforce concepts.
Their results demonstrated that this type of group work was effective in improving the children’s social skills and decreasing aggressive behaviors from practicing communication, respect, and empathy with each other.  It did not address attention problems or assess for improvements in self-esteem.  Researchers also claimed that holding one session on each feeling was not enough for children to gain a deeper understanding of the topic and I agree.  One positive addition to the study was that researchers were able to identify early accounts of abuse and neglect through processing feelings with the children.

Waliski, A. D., Carlson L. A. (2008). Group work with preschool children: effect on emotional awareness and behavior. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 33 (1), 3-21.

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