For purposes of implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA], the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs [OSEP] has provided federal regulations in which 34 CFT § 300.347(a)(3) and (b)(9)(v) defines related services and require that local education agencies provide, among other things, psychological counseling services to children with disabilities who need them to benefit from special education. Despite this requirement OSEP has determined that the PA Department of Education [PDE] did not ensure that all children who required such services received them. In monitoring of districts, it was found that almost 90% of districts reported that psychological counseling services are not considered to be a related service and are not included on the child’s IEP regardless of the individual student’s need. Personnel reported that if children with disabilities need counseling services, they are referred to a mental health organization outside of the school district.
One district reported that they did not want to include anything on the IEP that they might not be able to deliver and psychological counseling services was not available in the school.
It was apparent that psychological counseling service, per se, is not the only aspect of this issue that commands attention. There is a significant disconnect between the well established and commonly accepted cognitive behavioral technologies approach to dealing with the behavioral needs of the general population (7 of 10 referrals for/to primary care physicians have behavioral implications) and the manner in which behavioral needs are addressed by local education agencies. While many schools and districts have adopted conflict resolution and peer medication teams, the acceptance and utilization of a school-based positive support model is far from uniform.
The practical response of schools is somewhat complex considering the history of their experience. For example, history would suggest that a child needing psychological counseling, as opposed to academic counseling, would be referred to an appropriate counselor in other child serving systems. In fact, IDEA also presents specific suggestions as to how to ensure that such agencies participate in helping the school support the child and family through interagency cooperation.
Further experience suggests that psychological counseling is, of necessity, connected to medication, and therefore requires the oversight of a medical doctor. Finally, the goal of such traditional counseling is predicated on a notion of a diagnosis of ‘mental illness’ and thus would result in an outcome of ‘cure’ or ‘stabilization’, which has little to do, so it would seem, with education and schools.
The experience of educators and the expectations of IDEA, therefore, appear to be in conflict to many. This Guide has been developed to provide a clarity of purpose and process for psychological counseling in schools which can meet the expectations of IDEA and overcome the notions of history.
The Guide is formatted on a social competence model 1 and therefore uses a cognitive behavior management technology as it basic mode of operation.
Interactiveness Of Social Competence
It is important to note in this process that the child’s social competence as manifested in overt behavior, cognitive processes and cognitive structures is an interactive process in both development and maintenance. It is, therefore, very important to understand the overt behavior, cognitive processes and cognitive structure of significant child managers and how they support or influence the child’s performance.
Gregory Bateson has pointed out that language commonly stresses only one side of any interaction. We commonly speak as though a single ‘thing’ could ‘have’ some characteristic. A stone is ‘hard’, ‘small’, ‘heavy’, and so on. But, he suggests, that this way of talking is not good enough in science or epistemology. To think straight, he suggests, it is advisable to expect all qualities and attributes, adjectives and so on to refer to at least two sets of interactions at a time.
For example: the statement ‘The stone is stationary’ comments on the location of the stone relative to the location of the speaker and other possible moving things.
Language continually asserts by the syntax of subject and predicate that ‘things’ somehow ‘have’ qualities and attributes. A more precise way of talking would insist that the ‘things’ are produced, are seen as separate from other ‘things’, and are made ‘real’ by their internal relations and by their behavior in relationship with other things and with the speaker.
Therefore, we would caution the person who asserts that a child is ‘aggressive’ to understand that a relationship can bring out aggressive behaviors, but it is doubtful that the child, alone, is aggressive. One of the most contingent diagnoses in this regard is oppositional defiance, which, of course, is impossible without another person.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR MANAGEMENT
The basis for educational psychological counseling must be compatible with both the social competence model and the basis for academic education itself. This connective underpinning is social learning theory. Social learning theory has grown out of the behaviorist movement and is the bridge between cognitive and behavioral theory and practice. Social learning theory is concerned with how people learn and give meaning to the events and experiences of their lives. Cognitive theory suggests that how people think has a direct impact on their affect [emotions, moods] and ultimately, how they behave. The issue for educators then is to determine why a child is ‘choosing’ not to learn, when there are few indications of inhibitions which cannot be overcome if s/he were motivated to overcome them.
Cognition is concerned with mental states and processes [usually described as thinking and feeling] and how these states and processes effect the resultant behaviors. Behavioral reinforcement can then be used to support or extinguish these thoughts and feelings. While the construct of psychological counseling is based on the identification of limiting or distressing thoughts and then changing or reframing these thoughts and consequent feelings, it is concerned ultimately with competence outcomes and therefore, directly supports the academic expectations of schools.
The fundamental assumption of such intervention is that people are the sum total of what they think; in fact, they are unable to act differently than they think [unless, of course, they are pretending]. The process then, is to identify thoughts and feelings that predispose the child to avoid academic involvement and/or deliberately act contrary to what we would normally expect of a typical child. Once limiting or distressing thoughts are found, which support an ‘inner logic’ that leads to the inappropriate behavior, the goal of counseling becomes one of finding a way to change the way these children think [at least in terms of the limiting and distressing mental states].
Since educators are experts in both learning theory and the processes of teaching new concepts and constructs, they are in an ideal position to provide counseling in this manner.
Counseling must, for purposes of this Guide, be accepted as a function, not a role. One does not need to be a ‘counselor’ to provide such counseling. As we will see, such counseling can be provided by teachers as well as other staff; in classrooms, groups or with individuals; in vivo or in structured situations. We have provided elsewhere [A Guide to Safe Schools] a complete structure for prevention, developmental and remedial interventions within schools. This Guide is oriented to the specifics of identification and intervention design and will enable districts to meet the criteria defined in IDEA in an effective and comprehensive manner.
The information provided in Part II of the Guide should assist schools in tailoring psychological counseling for their own purposes and particular students.
Part I Steps In Determining The Need For Psychological Counseling
As all educational professionals know, special education eligibility requires two factors: 1) the presence of an eligible disability and 2) the need for individualized curriculum. There are twelve  recognized disabilities which include:
Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorder
Blindness Or Visual Impairment
Deafness Or Hearing Impairment
Developmental Delays [limited to Early Intervention]
Neurological Impairment [Traumatic Brain Injury]
Other Health Impairment
Serious Emotional Disturbance
Specific Learning Disabilities
Speech And Language Impairment
Once the disability has been identified, the district is responsible for determining what if any special accommodations must be developed to provide supports for a free and appropriate education [FAPE]. One of the key factors in this determination is the child’s overt and covert behavior: his/her acts and the thoughts and feelings that influence those acts.
When a student chooses not to access themselves of the appropriate supports, is truant from school or does not participate while there and/or participates in behaviors that interfere with his/her own and others education, the question of related services, including psychological counseling must be considered. While it is accepted that a focus on overt behaviors is necessary, it is not and cannot be used as, a sufficient, defining characteristic of social [and academic] competence. When a child chooses not to participate in an appropriate educational process needs to address the cognitive processes and cognitive structure.
As with all educational processes, the process of identifying and assessing children with problems in living occur under the auspices of a team. The predominant team, for purposes of this Guide is the IEP/504 team. This team is responsible for the determination of eligibility for educational and related services for children with problems in living. This team is responsible for the receiving the multidiciplinary evaluation report and making a determination about what, if any interventions, are required to enable a child to benefit from the educational process. If a child is deemed to not meet the eligibility for special education, but still needs accommodation in order to benefit from school programs, the team is required to develop such a plan and provide the appropriate services.
This Guide is concerned with ensuring that appropriate related services are provided for all children who are not benefiting from the educational process. In order to enhance the district’s ability to provide psychological counseling in a manner which has been suggested, the following guidelines can be considered.
Step 1. Functional Cognitive Behavior Assessment [FCBA]
After a request for evaluation, the district should be prepared to include a FCBA for any child who has an indicated disability, even if the overt behaviors are not problematic to learning. The reason for this is that it is not the experience, but the interpretation of the experience which creates negative thoughts. For a child who has not thought of him/herself as disabled before, the process of becoming eligible can become the catalyst for reassessing themselves and others. To avoid the possibility of creating negative self identification, it is important for the school to determine the thoughts of the child/family, teachers, etc., in regard to this child to avoid interpersonal expectancy effects which can cause the child to deteriorate in academic progress despite receiving increased support.
The FCBA should be completed with a Community Assessment/Support Team which includes all salient actors in the child’s life.
Step 2. Evaluation Of Data
This step entails the determination of whether the child, the family, and/or the educational staff need supports which will enhance the child’s increased or continued self affirmation and self confidence. A parent who is devastated by a child’s newly identified disability can become the child’s worst enemy, without even understanding how s/he has contributed to a negative process. Parents inherently want to protect their children, and finding out that your child is impaired can lead to overprotective actions which send a message to the child – you are incompetent. This is not an intentional process. One mother whose child was refusing school, brought her child to a meeting to find ways to get her to come. Her goal was clearly to get the child in school. During the meeting, which the child attended, the child was asked whether she would stay in school once the meeting was over. When the child said yes, the mother became immediately concerned for her an suggested that “You will become anxious and distraught’, at which point the child changed her mind. The mother did not even realize how she had influenced her daughter to be anxious.
Step 3. Design Of The Intervention
It should be clear that the interventions can and should be with the child, the home and/or the school. The Teacher Expectation/Student Achievement [TESA] materials clearly indicate that teacher’s with lowered expectations fulfill these prophecies through their actions. If a teacher believes that a child cannot or will not learn, s/he is right. The school has the option of either helping the teacher restructure his/her thoughts and expectations about the child, or to place the child with another teacher.
In like manner, it has been clearly demonstrated that children with conduct disorders have usually learned the behaviors at home and these behaviors will be maintained by the family unless, or until, new child management strategies are put in place there.
Finally, a direct intervention with the child is required to address the child’s overt behaviors as well as the cognitive processes and cognitive structures.
The cognitive behavior support plan therefore can have as many as three (3) tiers. While it is theoretically possible to help a child overcome the influences of the family and the educators, this is a very difficult adaptation. This is not to imply that all three levels need to be intense, nor that they cannot be accomplished outside of the district. However, the district is responsible for ensuring that the child can benefit for the academic services.
Step 4. Implementation
We have stated earlier that counseling is a function, not a role. The plethora of cognitive behavior interventions can be designed in a manner in which teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists and others can provide the appropriate supports. However, it seems logical that the school psychologist may be in the best position to make decisions about the nature of the services and who is best suited to provide them.
Services can be as simple as scripting antecedent attributions for a teacher to use at intervals during the day, or as complex as a cognitive restructuring class for a group of students whose belief system interferes with their ability to learn.
FUNCTIONAL COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL ASSESSMENTS
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL SUPPORT PLANS
Definition The Functional Cognitive Behavior Assessment (FCBA) is a process that provides a framework for developing effective programs for students. It examines the thoughts, feeling and behaviors of the child and his/her interactive network, that reliably predict and maintain problem in living while using a competence model that considers the ‘whole child’ and the internal and external context in which behavior occurs. It addresses problems in living by developing cognitive behavior support plans that are proactive with research-validated practices. The approach is geared to utilizing a student’s strengths to provide a basis for plan development, instructional programming, and cognitive behavior management that are geared to each individual’s needs, preferences, and long-term goals.
1. Gathering broad information:
a. Thoughts & feelings of the student and his/her interactive network
b. Student and family preferences and goals
c. Active child management strategies [home, school & community]
d. Quality of life indicators (relationships, choice and control, access to preferred activities)
This type of information can be gathered from various places including team discussions, interviews, review of records, rating scales, sociometric measures, specific skill assessments. It is best gathered, however, in a Community Assessment / Support Team [CA/ST] process.
2. Gathering specific information:
a. Student ‘s vision for the future – preferences and goals
b. Student’s strengths and skill limitations
d. Health concerns
e. Quality of life indicators (relationships, choice and control, access to preferred activities)
f. What specific events or factors contribute to the student’s problem behavior?
g. When is the student most likely to meet problems in living?
h. What internal and/or external contexts appear to be maintaining the student’s behavior?
i. What function(s) does the problem behavior serve for the student? [What is the ‘inner logic’ to the behavior?
j. When is the student less likely to engage in problem behavior? (Identify characteristics of these situations.)
k. What other factors might be contributing to the student’s problem behavior?
This type of information can be gathered from various forms of informant and observation techniques including team discussions, scatter plots, sociometric measures, ABC analyses
3. Once the assessment process is completed and predictable cognitive behavior patterns emerge that explain when and why the student is experiencing problem in living, a hypothesis statement is to be developed. The hypothesis will serve as a foundation on which to design a cognitive behavior support plan and should include the following:
a. When this happens (a description of specific internal [on all parties] and/or external antecedents associated with the specific difficulties being experienced),
b. The student thinks/does this (a description of the limiting/distressing thoughts and feelings which influence the resultant behavior)
c. In order to (a description of the possible function of the behavior) based upon the ‘inner logic’
4. Clear hypothesis statements should lead to interventions that are based on understanding the meaning and functions of the student’s behavior. COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT PLANS should be detailed and contain the following elements:
a. Antecedent and setting event internal/external modifications
b. Teaching of alternative skills using research based practices
c. Consequence strategies to strengthen alternative skills, increasing the pay-off for the new behavior
d. Lifestyle Interventions that include long-term maintenance of skills
e. Outcome expectations [discharge criteria]
f. Expected time of implementation [start/end]
g. Delineation of who is responsible for each intervention
h. Criteria to evaluate progress
j. Crisis management plan (if necessary).
5. Clear and negotiated COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR CONTRACT that outlines the following:
a. Student’s desire to change
b. Student’s preferences for change
c. Student’s commitment to change
d. Student’s authorization for provider/implementer to provide help
e. Provider’s acknowledgement of the student preferences
f. Caveats, if any, to students plan of change
g. Time/ process for addressing caveats
h. Provider’s acknowledgement of other clients [child managers] whose problems in living will also be addressed
CRITERIA FOR IMPLEMENTATION
Admission Criteria: Student is in need of assessment services for one of the following reasons:
1. Requires an assessment to determine goals and recommendations as part of an early intervention process.
2. Requires an assessment to determine recommendations as part of the IEP/504 process.
Continuing Stay Criteria FCBA is an ongoing process.
- If the student is not eligible for an IEP/504 Plan and the assessment team has convened and determined services are no longer warranted.
- If the student is eligible and the IEP Team has convened and removed services from the plan.
SELECTED IMPLEMENTATION COMPONENTS
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR PLAN OF CHANGE
A. INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGICAL COUNSELING
Definition: Regularly scheduled, individual face-to-face cognitive counseling services to the youth in his/her most appropriate natural environment for the purpose of addressing through specifically defined and agreed upon, protocols, techniques and procedures that address the thoughts and feelings that prevent the child from benefiting from his/her educational program. These counseling services are designed to promote independent functioning and are intended to be focused and time-limited with interventions reduced and discontinued as youth and family are able to function more effectively.
Services Offered: Individual psychological counseling services include regularly scheduled face-to-face interventions with children and adolescents that are designed to improve cognitive and behavioral functioning that allows the youth to reasonably benefit from his/her educational program. These services may be provided in the school, community, home or, if appropriate, in the provider’s office.
Individual psychological counseling includes evidence based interventions involving cognitive behavior strategies [thought journals, visualization, reframing, anchoring, etc.], behavioral plans, skills training, crisis planning and facilitating access to other community services and supports as needed to improve overall functioning and increase independence.
Individual psychological counseling sessions can include a brief conference with the child managers [family and/or school], if appropriate. Individual psychological counseling can be provided in conjunction with systemic interventions with the interactive network. Specific goals may include: increased behavioral control; and improved attention, communication, social, recreational, coping, anger management, problem-solving, and other daily living skills. Interventions are evidenced based and tailored to address identified youth needs.
Services are designed to promote improved functioning and to build upon the natural strengths of the youth/family and community. Service should follow a Cognitive Behavior Support Plan (CBSP) in pursuit of measurable goals and objectives.
Specific services include all of the following:
- Access and review all historical and assessment data available in the youth’s clinical record.
- Identify and continue to develop the child’s personal preferences as stated in the vision statement, which should reveal the child’s relevant issues, needs, and related goals to achieve improved living satisfactions, mutually satisfying and gratifying relationships, and improved social and academic competence.
- Develop, if required, a written crisis plan in collaboration with the youth, family, teachers, and other relevant parties.
- Develop a written CBSP – with measurable goals and objectives, specific interventions, and target dates for reaching objectives – as directed by the youth, family, and other relevant parties.
- Review a written transition/discharge plan to include discharge goals, specific target dates for reaching each goal, and outcome criteria to determine when psychological counseling can appropriately conclude. (The transition/discharge plan should be included in the students Individual Education Plan [IEP].
- Implement, monitor and adjust interventions as needed to address needs and accomplish objectives and goals.
- Review interventions, needs, goals and progress at least every 30 days and update plan of change and discharge plans within CBSP based on such reviews.
- Schedule regular psychological counseling sessions to work with youth to facilitate his/her ability to think in balanced, rational ways to enhance the ability cope and function in a positive manner through encouragement, support, education, skills training, and linkage to appropriate community services and resources.
- Participate with integration of services across domains (home, school, and community) as needed.
- Assist with discharge planning in collaboration with the IEP.
- Participate in the implementation of FCBA and the development of a CBSP and IEP.
- Individual psychological counseling services can be of varying degrees of intensity and complexity depending upon the youth/family situation and needs. Regular sessions are scheduled as per the plan of change [CBSP] and may decrease in frequency as needs are met and goals are reached. These services are intended to be focused and time-limited with services reduced and discontinued as youth/family are able to function more effectively. The usual course of intervention is six (6) to twenty-four (24) sessions or six months, whichever occurs first.
- The IEP team recommends these services. The scope and nature of services are collaboratively determined by the IEP.
Re-Authorization Need for continuation of services is reviewed as designated in the CBSP.
Admission Criteria An IEP/MP Team determines the following:
- The youth is experiencing mild to moderate problem in living due to a maladaptive cognitive pattern that is manifested by either: delay in appropriate developmental progress, deterioration in ability to fulfill developmentally appropriate responsibilities, an avoidance of or refusal to participate in academic processes, a mild to moderate risk for self-injury and/or injury to others, presence of stress-related symptoms, decompensation, or relapse.AND
- The identified thoughts, feeling and behaviors interfere with the youth’s ability to gainfully benefit from his/her educational program.AND
- There is reasonable expectation that the youth will benefit from this service, i.e., that psychological counseling will improve functioning that relates to improved ability to benefit from his/her educational program.AND
- Less restrictive services are not adequate to meet the youth’s needs based on documented response to prior intervention OR based on the judgment of the IEP team.
- Continuation of services will be based on the student’s progress on IEP goals and objectives.
Continuing Stay Criteria All of the following criteria must be met as determined by the IEP Team review of service documentation, plans and progress as specified in the CBSP and IEP:
- All admission criteria continue to be met;AND
- Services are being provided per CBSP as documented in progress reports and plan reviews;AND
- There are regular and timely assessments and documentation of youth/family response to interventions. Timely and appropriate modifications to the CBSP are made that are consistent with the youth/family’s status;AND
- A transition/discharge plan is formulated and regularly reviewed, revised, and appropriately implemented in a timely manner, identifies specific transition/discharge goals to be met, and includes specific target dates for reaching each goal;AND
- At least one of the following criteria must be met;
- Problems in living persist at a level of severity that was documented upon admission, the projected time frame for attainment of CBSP goals as documented in the CBSP has not been reached, and a less restrictive level of intervention is not thought to adequately meet youth’s needs. In this situation the CBSP may need to be adjusted to better meet the youth/family’s needs. If ongoing intervention and adjustments are not effective, alternative services and levels of intensity will need to be explored;OR
- Youth is demonstrating progress, outcome goals have not yet been met, there is reason to believe that goals can be met with ongoing psychological counseling services, and a less intensive level of intervention would not adequately meet youth goals;OR
- Minimal progress toward behavioral goals has been demonstrated, the CBSP has been modified to more effectively address needs, there is reason to believe that goals can be met with ongoing psychological counseling services, and a less intensive level of intervention would not adequately meet youth/family goals;OR
- New maladaptive thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors have been identified, plans have been modified to address these effectively through psychological counseling services, and a less intensive level of intervention would not adequately meet youth/family needs;
Discharge Criteria Youth is no longer in need of or eligible for services due to at least one of the following:
- Problems in living have abated to a level of severity which no longer requires this level of care as documented by attainment of goals in the CBSP;OR
- Youth has demonstrated minimal or no progress toward CBSP goals for a three month period and appropriate modifications of plans have been made and implemented with no significant success, suggesting the youth is not benefiting from individual psychological counseling services at this time [the IEP team may want to consider with the youth a new provider];OR
- New maladaptive thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors have been identified that cannot be effectively addressed through individual psychological counseling services;OR
- Youth no longer meets admission criteria for this service;OR
- Youth does not meet eligibility criteria.
Individual psychological counseling services shall be provided by personnel that meet one of the following requirements:
- PA licensed, graduate level social worker, marriage/family therapist, psychiatric nurse specialist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, National Certified Counselor, AND a minimum of one year of supervised training and experience in the provision of child and adolescent counseling services,OR
- An advanced (graduate level) professional degree in social work, marriage/family therapy, psychiatric nursing, psychology, psychiatry, counseling or behavioral science from a regionally or nationally accredited program AND a minimum of two years of supervised training and experience in the provision of child and adolescent counseling services,OR
- An advanced (graduate level) professional degree in social work, marriage/family therapy, psychiatric nursing, psychology, psychiatry, counseling or behavioral science, from a regionally or nationally accredited program AND a minimum of one year of supervised training and experience in the provision of child and adolescent counseling services, AND currently working under the supervision of personnel meeting criteria 1 or 2 above.OR
- Be a certified school psychologist or clinical psychologist employed by the LEA .
All candidates must demonstrate a knowledge of cognitive behavior protocols, techniques and procedures.
- Providers are required to document information for the IEP/504 Plan, including visit log, progress report and other relevant findings.
- Providers shall enter data into clinical record on a weekly basis within twenty-four (24) hours of service provision.
B. GROUP PSYCHOLOGICAL COUNSELING
Definition Regularly scheduled, face-to-face psychological counseling services for groups of three (3) to twelve (12) youth in the most natural, appropriate environment for the purpose of addressing problems in living that prevent the youth from benefiting from their educational program. Using specifically defined and agreed upon, protocols, techniques and procedures that address thoughts and feelings, these psychological counseling services are designed to promote independent functioning and are intended to be focused and time-limited.
1. Group psychological counseling services include regularly scheduled face-to-face interventions with groups of three (3) to twelve (12) youth designed to improve functioning that allows the youth to reasonably benefit from his/her educational program. A co-facilitator is indicated for groups of eight (8) or more youth; this ratio may be greater for more disruptive youth.
Groups are both focused and time-limited or youth are discharged from the group as CBSP goals are reached. Group psychological counseling may involve psychoeducation [teaching of concepts], modeling, coaching, role-playing, behavioral practice and other group-oriented experiential modalities. Specific goals may include: increased behavioral control; and improved attention, communication, social, recreational, coping, anger management, problem-solving, and other daily educational skills living skills. Interventions are evidenced based and tailored to address identified youth needs. Services are designed to promote independent functioning and to build upon the natural strengths of the youth and community.
2. Specific services include all of the following:
a. Accessing and reviewing all historical and assessment data available in the youth’s clinical record.
b. Identify and continue to develop the child’s personal preferences as stated in the vision statement, which should reveal the child’s relevant issues, needs, and related goals to aid in behavior support planning.
c. Develop, if required, a written crisis plan in collaboration with the youth, family, teachers, and other relevant parties.
d. Develop a written CBSP – with measurable goals and objectives, specific interventions, and target dates for reaching objectives – in collaboration with the youth, family, teachers, and other relevant parties.
e. Develop a written transition/discharge plan to include discharge goals, specific target dates for reaching each goal, IEP, and outcome criteria to determine when psychological counseling services can appropriately conclude.
f. Implement, monitor, and adjust interventions as needed to address needs and accomplish objectives and goals.
g. Review interventions, needs, goals and progress at least every thirty (30) days and update the plan of change and discharge plans based on such reviews.
h. Schedule regular group sessions to work with youth to address identified needs and goals per CBSP plan. Group counseling can occur one to three hours each day or week.
i. Participate with integration of services across domains (home, school, and community) as needed.
j. Assist with discharge planning in collaboration with IEP team.
3. Specific required documentation includes:
a. Completion of progress notes reflecting all contacts placed in the clinical record within twenty-four (24) hours.
b. Review of a written crisis plan with the youth/family and school within one (1) week of initiating service, to be signed by all parties and updated as needed.
c. Review of a written CBSP with the youth/family and school within two (2) weeks of initiating service and written reviews of CBSP with the youth/family at least every three (3) months..
d. Update written discharge plan with the youth/family within four (4) weeks of initiating service as needed.
e. Submission of crisis plans, CBSP updates, discharge plans, and reviews within one (1) week of completion.
f. Regular completion of Progress Summary submitted within one (1) week following the end of the reported month.
g. Record adjustments to CBSP crisis, treatment, and discharge plans as needed to effectively meet youth/family needs.
1. Group psychological counseling services can be of varying degrees of intensity and complexity depending upon the youth’s situation and needs. Regular sessions are scheduled per CBSP plan and typically will be time-limited.
2. These services are recommended by the IEP. The scope and nature of services are collaboratively determined by the IEP.
Re-Authorization Need for continuation of services is reviewed at least every three (3) months.
Admission Criteria An IEP/504Team determines the following:
1. The youth is experiencing mild to moderate problems in living due to a maladaptive cognitive pattern that is manifested by either: delay in appropriate developmental progress, deterioration in ability to fulfill developmentally appropriate responsibilities, an avoidance or refusal to participate in academic processes, a mild to moderate risk for self-injury and/or injury to others, presence of stress-related symptoms, decompensation, or relapse.
2. The identified thoughts, feelings and behaviors interfere with the youth’s ability to gainfully benefit from his/her educational program.
3. There is reasonable expectation that the youth will benefit from this service, i.e., that group psychological counseling will improve functioning that relates to improved ability to benefit from his/her educational program.
4. Less restrictive services are not adequate to meet the youth’s needs based on documented response to prior treatment OR based on the judgment of the IEP team.
Continuing Stay Criteria: All of the following criteria must be met as determined by IEP Team review of service documentation, plans and progress every three (3) months, following admission:
1. All admission criteria continue to be met.
2. Services are being provided per CBSP as documented in progress reports and plan reviews.
3. There are regular and timely assessments and documentation of youth/family response to interventions. Timely and appropriate modifications to the CBSP are made that are consistent with the youth/family’s status.
4. A transition/discharge plan is formulated and regularly reviewed, revised, and appropriately implemented in a timely manner, identifies specific discharge goals to be met, and includes specific target dates for reaching each goal. Transition/discharge plans are to be integrated within the IEP.
5. At least one (1) of the following criteria must be met:
a. Problems in living persist at a level of severity that was documented upon admission, the projected time frame for attainment of CBSP goals as documented in the CBSP has not been reached, and a less restrictive level of care would not adequately meet youth’s needs. In this situation the CBSP may need to be adjusted to better meet the youth/family’s needs. If ongoing intervention and adjustments are not effective, alternative services and levels of care will need to be explored,
b. Youth is demonstrating progress, outcome goals have not yet been met, there is reason to believe that goals can be met with ongoing group psychological counseling services, and a less intensive level of care would not adequately meet youth goals,
c. Minimal progress toward behavioral goals has been demonstrated, the CBSP has been modified to more effectively address needs, there is reason to believe that goals can be met with ongoing group psychological counseling services, and a less intensive level of care would not adequately meet youth/family goals,
d. New symptoms or maladaptive behaviors have developed, plans have been modified to address these additional behaviors, the behaviors can be safely and effectively addressed through group psychological counseling services, and a less intensive level of intervention would not adequately meet youth/family needs.
Discharge Criteria An IEP/504 Team determines that the youth is no longer in need of or eligible for services due to at least one (1) of the following:
1. Problems in living have abated to a level of severity which no longer requires this level of intervention as documented by attainment of goals in the CBSP plan,
2. Youth has demonstrated minimal or no progress toward treatment goals for a three (3) month period and appropriate modification of plans have been made and implemented with no significant success, suggesting the youth is not benefiting from group psychological counseling services at this time,
3. New maladaptive thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors which cannot be effectively addressed through group psychological counseling services,
4. Youth no longer meets admission criteria for this service.
Group psychological counseling services shall be provided by personnel that meet one of the following requirements:
- PA licensed, graduate level social worker, marriage/family therapist, psychiatric nurse specialist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, National Certified Counselor, AND a minimum of one year of supervised training and experience in the provision of child and adolescent counseling services,OR
- An advanced (graduate level) professional degree in social work, marriage/family therapy, psychiatric nursing, psychology, psychiatry, counseling or behavioral science from a regionally or nationally accredited program AND a minimum of two years of supervised training and experience in the provision of child and adolescent counseling services,OR
- An advanced (graduate level) professional degree in social work, marriage/family therapy, psychiatric nursing, psychology, psychiatry, counseling or behavioral science, from a regionally or nationally accredited program AND a minimum of one year of supervised training and experience in the provision of child and adolescent mental health services, AND currently working under the supervision of personnel meeting criteria 1 or 2 above.OR
- Be a school psychologist or clinical psychologist employed by the LEA .
All candidates must demonstrate a knowledge of cognitive behavior protocols, techniques and procedures.
Providers are required to document information for the IEP/504 Plan, including visit log, progress report and other relevant findings.
Providers shall enter data into clinical record on a weekly basis within twenty-four (24) hours of service provision.
C. SCHOOL CONSULTATION
Definition Consultation of a clinical provider with regular and special education teachers, school administrators and other school personnel regarding the management of youth within the school setting. School consultation is delivered as requested by or agreed upon by the school.
- School consultation is a collaborative process, which serves to better link a youth’s CBSP with his/her IEP/504 Plan. School consultation facilitates communication between school personnel and clinical providers, between home and school, as well as between various school staff, such as between regular and special educators. While the focus of consultation is on child management issues, it can include organizational management of the classroom (e.g., seating arrangements, scheduling) to boost the efficacy of inclusion of children with disabilities. The clinician can provide general and intervention-specific information on particular disorders (e.g., Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette’s Disorder) as well as certain variables (e.g., poor achievement motivation, lack of social skills competence) and their potential impact on classroom performance.
- School consultation generally includes a face-to-face contact of a clinician with teacher, administrator or other school personnel for the purpose of sharing information and facilitating communication. The contact may, however, be made by phone if the school visitation is not feasible and the goals of that consultation can be accomplished long-distance (e.g., helping a teacher fine-tune a cognitive behavior management plan).
- The following responsibilities of the school consultant are important to insure collaboration and efficacy:
a. Obtain parental consent to visit school and share information with school personnel.
b. Access and review pertinent educational and clinical data available in the youth’s record.
c. Adhere to school protocols regarding rules and responsibilities on school campus.
d. Conduct classroom observation(s), if needed, to witness youth’s functioning in the school setting.
e. Hold consultation meeting with appropriate school personnel to discuss specific issues/interventions related to youth’s school performance.
f. Complete progress note and place in youth’s clinical record within twenty-four (24) hours.
Initial Authorizations School consultation services are to be requested by or agreed upon by the school.
Re-Authorization Not applicable
Admission Criteria Appropriate school personnel request the delivery of school consultation.
Continuing Stay Criteria There are no continuation criteria for this level of care. Each request for consultation is treated as a separate episode and follows the above (Admission Criteria) guidelines.
Discharge Criteria A progress note is completed and placed in the youth’s clinical record reflecting issues and management strategies discussed, as well as school personnel’s receptivity to the consultation intervention.
School consultation services shall be provided by a clinical professional who is familiar with the youth and the youth’s family. In addition to having training and/or experience with cognitive behavioral management strategies and interfacing with schools, personnel must meet cliniical credentialing requirements.
- Progress notes are completed according to standards and placed in the clinical record within twenty-four (24) hours.
- Evidence of credentialing.
- Providers are required to document information for the IEP/504 Plan, including visit log, progress report and other relevant findings.
- Providers shall enter data into clinical record on a weekly basis within twenty-four (24) hours of service provision.
COMPONENTS OF THE MODEL
- Overt Behavior refers to directly observable behaviors, or what the individual does both verbally and nonverbally in an interpersonal context.
- Cognitive Processes refers to the thoughts and images [self-statements, attributions, expectancies, appraisals, etc.] that precede, accompany and follow overt behaviors, as well as the thinking skills and styles of information processing that the individual employs in social situations.
- Cognitive Structures refers to the individual’s meaning, or belief system or mental context, which provides motivation and direction for both thought and behavior.
Although described separately, these components are considered to be highly interdependent in contributing to social competence.
The frequency and character of behavior patterns is often used to define social competence. While it is accepted that a focus on overt behaviors is necessary, it is not and cannot be used as, a sufficient, defining characteristic of social competence. Therefore, simply describing a child’s behaviors is not sufficient to describe the degree of social competence the child is capable of manifesting. Having emphasized that limitation, it is nonetheless ture, that in order to develop indicators for competence requirements, educators and clinicians will need to address the potential of using measures of overt behaviors as criteria.
Several areas of observation can be defined by the research. For example, social competence is reflected in:
- the manner in which children secure adult attention and how they utilize adults as resources,
- the ability to express hostility and affection towards peers,
- to lead and follow peers,
- to imitate both adults and peers, and
- to show pride in accomplishment.
Much can be learned by focusing upon the frequency of social contacts and the sequence of communications within these interactions. Ratings of children’s behavior have been found to relate positively to peer ratings of popularity (one way of operationalizing social competence). Thus, not only the frequency but the quality of a child’s social interactions can be used to measure social competence.
Specifically, one might look at, and record, the amount of time a child spends alone, observing peers, and interacting with peers and adults such as teachers or parents. These interactions can also be coded as involving cooperative, affectionate, compliant/noncompliant, derogatory, or attacking behavior. Once again, behavioral ratings have been significantly related to sociometric ratings.
An investigation of the social interactions of omega children (i.e., children chosen last for athletic teams during play periods at school), examined the following aspects of the behavior of these children:
- their spatial proximity to other children;
- the amount of physical contact with others;
- the frequency of aggressive episodes; and
- the children’s location in relation to the rest of the group.
The results indicated that omega children were generally peripheral to the stream of ongoing activity. Not only were they isolated in location, but they also engaged in fewer physical and athletic encounters as compared with higher ranking children.
Nonverbal behaviors (such as facial expressions, gestures, gaze, spatial behavior, nonverbal aspects of speech, bodily contact and appearance), as well as verbal acts (e.g., instructions, questions, comments, informal chatting, performance utterances, social routines, and the expression of emotional states, attitudes, and latent messages) have also come under study.
The ability to draw upon a varied repertoire of socially appropriate behaviors pursuant to goal attainment may be considered to be an important feature of social competence. It is also necessary, of course, to determine these functional behavioral variables not only in the classroom, but within the child ‘preferential’ peer group, for a child may ‘not fit’ within one group, but do very well socially within another.
This is one of the reasons that, as stated earlier, a focus on overt behaviors per se is a necessary, but not a sufficient, defining characteristic of social competence. We must also take into account the role of individual’s thoughts and cognitions in any definition of social competence. The import and content of specific overt behavior are minimized as compared to their meaning to the actor and recipient.
Cognitive processes include the diversity of thoughts and styles of information processing that occur when an individual is confronted with a social situation. These include the internal dialogue that accompanies behavior and reflects the individual’s thoughts and feelings about the situation and/or him/herself, the expectancies with which the individual approaches the situation, and his/her appraisal of situational or personal outcomes, as well as the amount and nature of the social information that the individual possesses about the situation. Some form of cognitive processing takes place in all social situations. The individual may be highly aware of these cognitive processes on occasion (as, for example, in the case of an anxious, self deprecating internal dialogue with which the individual is preoccupied to the detriment of social behavior, or in the case of intentional impression management). However, cognitive processing frequently operates in a highly automatic, thoughtless or scripted fashion. In this case, expectancies or thoughts that subtly control behavior are not particularly salient for the individual at the time but can be brought into awareness and captured by a variety of cognitive assessment techniques.
Such cognitive processes occassionally take place in unusual way, such as the thinking in pictures that often occurs with children who are autistic. Temple Grandin, for example reports that her thoughts are associational, rather than logical, and that she visualizes specific rather than generalized types. When associating the word ‘dog’, she sees a specific dog, rather than abstracting the word into a generalization. Her ‘photographic memory’ is just that and she is apparently capable of recalling specific visual memories of every occurance. The downside of this thinking process is developing visual images for abstract words. The upside is that she is able to design a physical object in three dimensions in her mind as though working on a computer. The problem for the assessment specialist is how to identify the elements of an autistic child’s cogntive process when s/he is unable to communicate it effectively.
Generally, we highlight aspects of cognitive processing that are important for the competent handling of social situations. Factors that may interfere with social competence (negative self reference embodied in internal dialogue, negative expectancies, etc.), and cognitive factors (thought content and style) that may facilitate positive social interaction. The Guide will outline some of the usual methods of accessing these factors, however, it will be up to the individual assessment specialist to determine how to creatively identify these factors with a child whose cognitive processes are outside the typical range.
COGNITIONS THAT INTERFERE WITH SOCIAL COMPETENCE
Evidence on thinking processes indicates that negative, self-referent ideation contributes to inadequate performance in a variety of situations. Consider, for example, the following inter- and intrapersonal tasks where the individual is required to be competent:
- taking an examination;
- responding to social challenges;
- performing in athletic competition; and
- creative responses on tests of divergent thinking.
In each of these situations, when a pattern of negative self-referent ideation precedes, accompanies, and/or follows behavioral acts, it contributes to inadequate performance.
Researchers have identified groups of low-assertive and high-assertive individuals and conducted multiple assessments in order to discern the role cognitive factors might play in the behavioral deficit. They found that low-assertive individuals did not differ from their more assertive counterparts with regard to knowledge of what was an appropriate response on an assertiveness questionnaire, nor did the two groups differ in the behavioral expression of assertion in a safe role-playing situation (i.e., showing a friend how to handle specific assertive situations). If both groups knew what to do and, moreover, could do it in circumstances, then what was the nature of the low-assertive individuals’ deficit?
The answer was provided by a third condition, in which researchers asked their subjects to role-play assertive behavior in a situation approximating real life (the subject was being personally confronted with an unreasonable request). In this condition, the low-assertive group manifested deficient assertive behavior.
When asked how frequently ‘positive’ as opposed to ‘negative’ self-statements had characterized their thought processes during the preceding assertiveness situations, [positive self-statements were defined as thoughts that would make it easier to refuse an unreasonable request; negative self-statements were those that would make it harder to refuse] they found that moderate- and high-assertive subjects had experienced significantly more positive than negative self-statements; whereas low-assertive subjects did not differ in the number of positive and negative self-statements. It appeared that while high-assertive individuals had a positive orientation and usually little doubt in their minds as to the appropriateness of their actions, low-assertive subjects, in contrast, could be characterized as experiencing an internal dialogue of conflict in which positive and negative self-statements competed against one another and interfered with interpersonal behavior. That negative cognitions plays such a directive role in social anxiety has been supported by others, who found that cognitive modeling in the form of alteration of self statements was most effective in reducing underassertive behavior.
A questionnaire assessment procedure is only one of a variety of means to tap an individual’s internal dialogue. Of most importance perhaps is to use a Functional Cognitive Behavior Assessment techniqe we call Community Assessment/Support Group [CA/ST] in which all parts of the child’s social network are represented [including the child] and discussion about statements [internal dialogue made public] made during social situations by both the child and the supportive cast can be examined. We need to be able describe the content, frequency, and most important, patterning of self-statements, thoughts, and images that accompany behavior and contribute to individual differences in performance in a variety of situations. We also need to be able to catelogue the self-statement and self-fullfiling prophecies [interpersonal expectancy effects] of others that support and/or negate the childs negative self-statements.
We can search the cognitive domain of both the child and the supporting cast for evidence of explanatory constructs in much the same way that we describe sequences of overt behaviors, look for evidence of fixed-action patterns, releasing stimuli, and so forth. Such a task may require the development of techniques (interviews, questionnaires, think-aloud protocols, videotape reconstruction, thought sampling, etc.) to assess more adequately the individual’s cognitive processes, particularly for those children whose cogntive processes are atypcial. Social competence must be broadened to consider the important impact of the individual’s internal dialogue on his or her social behavior. Implications for correction must include the arena of social involvement and the messages being sent by the child management aspects of major components [e.g., home, school].
Expectancies And Appraisals
An important aspect of cognitive processes to highlight is the interaction between the expectancies that an individual brings to a social situation and his/her appraisal of social outcomes, as well as the impact of both on social behavior. ‘Expectancies’ represent the individual’s personal prediction (whether from previous experience or the affective meaning that the situation holds for him or her) about what will happen in a given social situation. Expectancies may be reflected in elements of the internal dialogue in which the individual engages in a given situation. Expectancies may also, in some individuals or in some circumstances, operate without the individual’s awareness of specific thought, as in the case of the person whose general sense is that social approaches typically turn out badly for him or her.
‘Social outcomes’ represent the wide range of events to which an individual may have some cognitive or behavioral reaction. These may include tangible results (e.g., another person’s verbal or nonverbal response), as well as internal events (such as physiological reactions, mood states, etc.). It is not the social outcome per se that is important, but the individual’s appraisal of this outcome. For example, physiological arousal may be interpreted as debilitating social anxiety, or as nervous excitement in anticipation of positive social experiences.
Expectancies and appraisals of social outcomes interact in complex ways with one another and with social behavior. Expectancies may operate to constrain the social cues that one processes, as well as the evaluation one places on them. This, in turn, has an important impact upon the social behavior emitted in the situation.
Appraisals of behavioral outcomes can, in turn, so constrain attention and behavior as to set up or confirm expectancies in current or future social situations. A study using a decision-expectancy model, found that expectancies about consequences following a proposed behavioral act more adequately explained unassertiveness and social incompetence than did the subject’s behavioral repertoire. The focus of competence training should be on changing the participant’s expectations about the results of his or her behavior, rather than focusing on either values or on specific behaviors. These results are consistent with the data and arguments about the important role of expectancies in influencing interpersonal competence.
Just as the child may have self-fulfilling prophecies about his/her potential performance on a task, so too may the child managers have such expectations. It has been clearly demonstrated that teachers who do not believe that a child can perform, act in a manner which sends the message to child, and inhibits the child’s ability to perform. When the child manager’s expectations match a child’s negative expectations, the child is doubly doomed. Further, it become doubly difficult to enable the child through psychological counseling to overcome negative expectancies, if they must overcome the expectancies of the child manager as well.
An important corollary of this view of social competence is the notion that individuals actively create their environments by their choice of social situations and partners, by their processing of social information in these situations, and by their interpersonal behavior. This is very much a transactional view of the person-environment exchange. Any definition of social competence must include not only the individual’s cognitive or behavioral response to a social situation, but his or her active engendering of a changing social environment. It may be that one key ingredient of social competence is the individual’s ability to create and maintain positive and supportive social environments. Socially incompetent behavior, on the other hand, may result from distorted or constrained processing of social information, even when the individual has a wide variety of social and behavioral skills in his or her repertoire.
COGNITIONS THAT FACILITATE SOCIAL COMPETENCE
The focus of the discussion thus far has been on the characteristics of cognitive processes that seem to interfere with social competence. It is much more difficult to specify what elements of thinking facilitate or enhance socially competent behavior. One area of interest has been social cognition, described as “the child’s intuitive or logical representation of others, that is, how s/he characterizes others and makes inferences about their covert inner psychological experience. The ability to infer accurately what other people are like and what they are seeing, feeling, thinking, and intending, appears to be an important prerequisite for effective social interaction.
Interpersonal Problem-Solving Skills [ICPS]
One aspect of social cognition, which is an important mediator of behavioral and social adjustment, is social problem-solving thinking. Research has identified the following interpersonal cognitive problem-solving skills:
- sensitivity to interpersonal problem situations;
- generation of alternative solutions to a problem situation;
- means-ends thinking (the ability to plan, step-by-step, toward attainment of an intra- or interpersonal goal);
- the tendency to weigh consequences in terms of their probable effectiveness and social acceptability; and
- the ability to perceive cause-and-effect relations in interpersonal events.
The sensitivity to the problem situation is supported by cognitive constructs which can be developed as early as four years of age through a process of formal dialogue. It follows, therefore, that even children with information processing problems, can benefit from learning the ICPS process.
Deficiencies in various ICPS skills are associated with social and behavioral maladjustment. Deficits in problem-solving cognition as assessed by performance on interview and projectivelike tasks, for example, have been found among diverse socially incompetent populations: poorly adjusted preschool children from disadvantaged environments; emotionally disturbed 10 to 12 year-old children; impulsive teenagers institutionalized for remedial purposes; adolescent’s with psychological disorders; youthful incarcerated heroin addicts; and adult’s with psychological disorders. More direct evidence that social cognitive problem-solving skills mediate social and behavioral adjustment in children comes from educational intervention programs where ICPS skills were taught to preschool children. These programs significantly improved certain dimensions of problem-solving thinking in children with behavioral difficulties (i.e., impulsive and overinhibited preschoolers), with subsequent improvement in the teacher-rated social adjustment of these children at post-training assessment and 6 months later.
Role Taking Skills
A related social cognitive skill is the ability to take the perspective of another person, a process referred to as role taking. Role taking, it has been suggested, underlies a variety of social cognitive skills:
- person perception (the characterization of what an individual is like);
- empathy (the ability to perceive and feel another’s affective state); and
- referential communication, (the ability to effectively communicate with another person).
Research has found a positive relationship between referential communication (a communicative role taking situation in which the subjects must take the perspective of the other into account as they describe an object available only to themselves), and various measures of prosocial behavior, such as altruism, generosity, and helpfulness. A number of studies investigating the relationship between role taking skill and various indices of social competence have found role taking abilities to be related to positive behavior in social interactions rather than to popularity as measured by sociometric ratings. However, others found referential communication accuracy to be significantly related to sociometric popularity. Chronically delinquent boys were deficient in role taking skills compared to nondelinquent boys. Similarly, researchers found an inverse relationship between empathy and aggression in boys over the age of five.
A number of studies have attempted to improve social behavior through training social cognitive skills. Researchers trained children in prosocial role playing and found resultant increases in helping behavior for girls, and in sharing behavior for boys. Others found reductions in delinquent behavior in chronically delinquent boys following training in role-taking skills, behavioral changes that persisted through an 18-month follow-up period. In a similar study, institutionalized emotionally disturbed children were given training in role taking and referential communication that resulted in improvements in social adjustment over a 12 month follow-up period.
It would appear that social cognitive skills such as role taking ability and related skills (e.g., empathy, person perception, and referential communication) are potentially important cognitive components of social competence.
Information Processing Styles
The focus of attention thus far in considering cognitive processes has been on the content of the individual’s cognitive processes. There is still another way to view the role of cognitive processes in the development and expression of social competence. The style and manner of information processing that individuals bring to bear in social situations.
Chunking Of Information
Cognitive psychology has presented a good deal of evidence in support of the view that people learn and remember information by a process of actively categorizing, chunking, or coding input according to conceptual schemata. The essential observation is that the way information is chunked has important effects on the individual’s proficiency in the performance of an act.
From the viewpoint of social competence, we may ask “How often do we, in social situations, appraise, attribute, label, read social situations in ways that in turn guide and control our behavior?” How is proficiency, in terms of social competence, reflected in differences in the chunks we impose?” “How does the individual’s chunking of social information change as s/he gains proficiency in kinds of social situations?” The answer to these questions may contribute to our understanding of social competence. Research in the area of “person perception” represents one attempt to answer such questions. For example, researchers found that children’s social effectiveness was related to the level of organization and the use of inferences in their descriptions of others. In relation to cognitions concerning the self, we must distinguish between subjects who had formed or had not formed ‘self-schemata’ (a term for domain-specific cognitive generalizations about the self derived from past experience). Subjects who possessed self-schemata more easily and rapidly processed information about themselves, more readily retrieved relevant behavioral evidence, more confidently predicted new responses and showed greater resistance to contradictory information.
In investigating the role of cognitive processes in competence one must not overlook the potential influence of individual differences in information processing. Examples from cognitive psychology indicate that individual differences in the style of chunking correspond with different types of proficiencies. It is not the ability to chunk per se that is important for effective behavior, but the fit between the task and the information-processing strategy employed. For example, researchers have distinguished between good and poor sight readers among professional pianists. Although all subjects were competent musical artists, they found that poor sight readers reported reading music note-by-note, while good sight readers employed a pattern recognition approach (the abstraction of familiar patterns of notes) as the basis of their performance. The poor sight readers, on the other hand, were found to be superior at memorizing music compared to the good sight readers, and all musicians reported using a note-by-note approach in their practicing. This underscores the need for sensitivity to individual differences in defining competence. A tone that often pervades the social competence literature is that there are correct ways of being competent (good guys vs. bad guys), instead of an appreciation of different ways of being competent and a recognition that each approach has its benefits as well as its costs.
An alternative way of conceptualizing social competence might be in terms of a problem-solving process in which the problem to be solved is the selection of the most appropriate information-processing style for the task demands. Whether processing style is a variable that is a function of familiarity with a task or is a characteristic of the subject remains to be investigated. Whether an individual can shift processing strategies in response to differing environmental demands is also a question for future research. The study on musical sight-reading suggests that there may be some people who can flexibly shift strategies to suit the demands of the situation, while others are locked into one way of processing information. Although, the latter individuals may be able to perform a particular task with high proficiency, they lack the flexibility required to perform effectively in a variety of situations. Examples in the area of social competence easily come to mind. Imagine, for instance, the individual who is effective in a one-to-one social situation with a close friend but feels lost and uncomfortable in an ocean of acquaintances at a cocktail party or when introduced to a stranger.
Automaticity Or Mindlessness
Another aspect of information processing that may be important in the understanding of social competence concerns the automaticity with which an act is performed – that is, the degree to which a behavior will be enacted ‘mindlessly’, or without intentional cognitive activity. The cognitive psychology literature indicates that the automaticity with which an act is performed will have important effects on the level of performance of that act. Depending upon the state reached in the skill-acquisition process, conscious cognitive processing may enhance or hinder performance. Researchers have proposed two information-processing modes: a conscious, controlled process that produces slow but accurate performance, and an automatic process that allows the rapid execution of highly stereotyped response sequences without the necessity of conscious control. With the acquisition of skill and the establishment of associative connections [the process of habituation] there is a switch from controlled to automatic processing. Specific tasks may differ in their information-processing demands – this applies to both cognitive tasks and social situations. We would suggest that any definition of social competence might well include the assessment of the individual’s ability, not only to recognize the information-processing demands of the situation, but also to adjust appropriately between automatic and controlled modes of operating.
What in a social situation leads an individual to shift from the automatic, mindless, stereotyped responses that constitute much of our social behavior to conscious control? One important determining factor is the interruption of automatic behavioral sequences and plans. Any one of a variety of factors may cause this interruption. It may be externally based – something the other person says or does, or it may be internally generated due to affective experiences, etc., which leads to a threshold of arousal, which brings the situation into conscious [mindful] consideration. In a social situation the evidence that one has shifted from an automatic interpersonal mode of operating to a controlled mode may be the act of taking a metaperspective. A person reacts to what s/he thinks the other person is perceiving, thinking, in addition to what the other person may be doing. Moreover, a metaperspective aspect of behavior may also be evident with individuals responding to what s/he thinks the other person is thinking that they are thinking.
If this is confusing, consider the following example, offered by a young, attractive, female psychologist.
When engaged in a professional conversation with a male psychologist, she reported having observed nonverbal cues that suggested to her that the male psychologist had a hidden (seductive) agenda in the interaction. This perception of discordant information (professional and sexual) stimulated attentive and conscious processing of subsequent social cues, which in turn affected the direction and outcome of the interaction.
This attentive and conscious processing (metaperspective taking) could be expected to facilitate the competent handling of ambiguous social situations in most instances. It is important to note, however, that metaperspective taking may on occasion hinder socially competent behavior in situations where it is evoked by inaccurate perception of social cues, negative response to external cues that one’s own behavior has in fact subtly provoked, or where it reflects intense negative concerns that engender anxiety, which interferes with competent social behavior.
The basic idea behind cognitive structures [mental contexts] is: “events are only meaningful to the extent that they can be assimilated into some existing model or structure; and if they cannot be assimilated, then the relevant cognitive structures must be altered to accommodate the environmental input”.
In a Cognitive Theory Of Consciousness, Baar spends considerable time talking about the creation of cognitive structures which include all of the information that has been habituated into automatic processes. This total content might be called the storage capacity of the mind.
The idea is that at any moment much more is going on that we can know.
Contexts, according to Baar, are relatively enduring structures that are unconscious, but can evoke and be evoked by conscious events. Conscious contents and unconscious contents interweave to create a”stream of consciousness”.
One plausible meaning of ‘self’ as the dominant enduring context of many conscious experiences, we may also say that conscious experience provides information to the self-as-context. Thus the structures to be considered in social competence might include what Seligman calls the Cognitive Triad, which includes the individual;s beliefs about self, others and future prospects.
The cognitive process of social cognitive skills, expectancies, and information-processing styles, imply underlying structures of organized information. The conceptualization focuses upon the broader motivational or affective structures that may underlie the cognitive processes which influence behavior in social and other situations.
When we use the term ‘cognitive structures’, we are trying to account for the motivation, direction, and organization of social behavior. We want to understand why individuals differ in their responses to the same environmental stimuli (i.e., in their expectancies, appraisals of outcomes, and in their social behavior). We also wish to use this concept to explain why a particular individual may show the same type of response to apparently dissimilar events. We are seeking to understand why such individual differences may occur.
The conception of cognitive structure focuses upon what we call the individual’s ‘theory of meaning’ or meaning system. Any given social situation may hold a somewhat different meaning for each individual. For example, a party for some individuals may be a pleasant social event, an opportunity to meet new people or to ‘let loose’. For others, it may be a chance to impress others with one’s brilliance or social repartee. For yet others, a party may be a trial where every aspect of one’s person or behavior is judged, or a situation where one is inevitably alone in a crowd, or a setting where one’s main concern is attractiveness to members of the opposite sex.
Theory of Meaning: the developmental process
Event: A stimulus occurs
Perception: the individual takes in the event in characteristic sensory style [e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.]
Sensation: the event may cause a bodily reaction [e.g. sudden, unexpected] raises the hair on the back of the neck
Appraisal: the individual interprets the event – attempts to explain or give a reason for it. How, who, what, when, where and why? If this is first time the event has occurred, the process of interpretation is data driven. If it has occurred before, the individual may already have a ‘theory’ about the event. The experience is then assimilated into the theory or the theory is adapted to new elements in the experience. Thus this and the following two variables are learned behavior. This learning sets in motion expectations and attributions.
Valuation: as the interpretation is developed, the individual places a value on it: it is good, bad, nonimportant. As this valuation is incorporated into the person’s theory of meaning, it becomes a learned item and becomes non-
Feeling state: the valuation may cause arousal. The individual learns over time to identify and label these arousal states as joy, elation, anger, curiousity, hostility, anticipation, etc. Many people are not consicous of how they feel.
Action: the arousal may require that the person act [e.g., fight or flight.] The action will be consistent with the feeling state. The action is the tip of the iceberg. Eliminating the action without addressing the learned elements simply causes the probem of be sub-rosa.
The meaning that each individual attaches to general social settings (like parties), as well as to specific social interactions within those settings, are part of a broader network of concerns or goals that determines what are important issues in the individual’s life and the position s/he takes in relation to them. These concerns may vary in intensity (how important or central they are) and in valence (positive or negative). An individual will normally have a multiplicity of concerns, some of which support and others that compete with one another, in situations that the individual encounters. In any given situation with which the individual is confronted (e.g., a social situation), the overall meaning that s/he attaches to the situation will determine whether s/he will participate, what aspects of the situation s/he will attend and respond to, how intense the involvement will be, and the general positive or negative orientation of thought and behavior in that situation.
In short, we see the individual’s meaning system as a kind of executive processor that holds the blueprints for both thinking and behavior. The meaning system functions to set behavior in motion, to guide the choice and direction of particular sequences of thought and behavior, and to determine their continuation, interruption, or change of direction. In a complex chain of events, the meaning that an individual attaches to a social situation functions to influence his/her expectancies and appraisals of outcomes, to set in motion the internal dialogue that reflects the individual’s feelings about the situation or his/her attempts to cope, to determine the employment or nonemployment of social cognitive skills such as problem solving or role taking, and to influence the social behavior that the individual emits in any social interaction.
The individual for whom a given social situation or situations provokes an intense negative concern or a multiplicity of negative concerns may find him/herself in a position where the cognitive or behavioral skills in his/her repertoire are swamped by an internal dialogue that focuses on negative affect and expectancies.
It may also be the case that individuals may have a range of social skills, but be so limited in terms of their meaning system or current concerns that they may be viewed as socially incompetent. Perhaps the accurate perception of others’ concerns and the choice of individuals whose concerns are compatible is another hallmark of social competence, part of the process of engendering positive or supportive social environments to which we referred earlier. Although caution must be exercised in this determination. For if a child finds compatibility of thought, feeling and behavior only in socially diviant groups, s/he may demonstrate a capacity for engendering a supportive environment, but one which would not be considered positive in the larger community. This would still create problems in living which are incompatible with social competence in the manner that term is intended.
It is also important to note that the environment changes in defining the appropriateness of an individual’s current concern. The individual’s ability to recognize this shift in situational demands and adjust accordingly also may contribute to social competence. The point simply is that any definition of social competence must be in flux, for it reflects not only the characteristics of the individual but also the characteristics of a changing environment. If the environment in which the child exists is socially incompetent and s/he responds negatively to it, his/her social incompetence is readily apparent. If s/he responds affirmatively to the environment’s social incompetence, s/he is still socially incompetent despite having manifested social skills.
Finally, the nature and number of an individual’s concerns about social situations should be predictive of the degree of anxiety in social situations, and thus the potential for distortion of social information and/or interference with socially competent behavior. The prognosis for an individual with a large number of intensely negative concerns would be less favorable than that for a person who has either a relatively limited negative concern or intense positive concerns that override the negative meaning s/he attaches to social situations. The nature of an individual’s concerns should also be predictive of the generality of social anxiety across situations (parties, informal small gatherings, interviews, dates, casual conversations, etc.) and the particular situations in which it might occur.
The individual whose concern is attractiveness to members of the opposite sex, for example, may have more difficulty on dates or at parties where s/he perceives this factor as a salient feature of the social setting. Cross-situational consistency of behavior depends upon the individual’s perception of similarity in situations. The individual’s meaning system influences his/her perception of such similarity, and thus the range of social situations in which cognitive or behavioral difficulties will be manifest.
Assessment of social competence must include a careful analysis of the meanings that individuals attach to social situations. These meanings influence the internal dialogue, expectancies and appraisals of outcomes, and styles of information processing, as well as the employment of cognitive and behavioral social skills in the individual’s repertoire. We must not impose a uniformity myth on either socially competent or socially incompetent individuals. Different meanings may underlie many of the same cognitive or overt behaviors. Any definition of social competence, must include a conceptualization not only of how individuals differ in the competent handling of social situations but of why they may do so.
Social competence can best be conceptualized as consisting of several interacting components that operate on one another to produce a kind of self-perpetuating cycle, elements of which may be operating at a very automatic stereotyped level. Social competence includes the individual’s meaning system or current concerns (what we have called cognitive structures), which can change with experience and with the demands of the situation, or with cognitive restructuring. The nature of the individual’s concerns will influence both cognitive processing of information and the behavioral acts emitted by the individual in a given situation. The elements of cognitive processing that we suggest may have implications for defining social competence include: the internal dialogue, appraisals, expectancies, problem-solving and other social cognitive skills, and information-processing styles (chunking, metaperspective taking, etc.). The nature of the cognitive processes actively called into play in a social situation depends upon the individual’s information-processing proficiency, the demands of the situation, the individual’s current concerns, and the responses of other participants. The overt behavior, or what the individual does in the situation, represents only one element (albeit an important element) of social competence. But overt behavior takes on particular meaning because it leads to consequences, both intra- and interpersonal, and the nature of the cognitive processes surrounding those consequences will further affect the self-perpetuating cycle. It is also important to recognize that individuals are active in selecting or engendering such cycles (both intra- and interpersonal), and in this sense actively create their social environment.
Finally, social competence encompasses the individual’s meaning system, overt behavior, and cognitive processes in continuous interaction with the social environment. In this framework, social competence should not merely be equated with observable behaviors, or cognitive processes or cognitive structures. Instead social competence is a construct that summarizes this entire chain of events. It is suggested that psychological functioning involves continuous reciprocal interaction between behavioral, cognitive, and environmental influences. We must come to appreciate the complexity of the nature of these processes, to more adequately define social competence.
The major cogntive domains which we will explore include 1) Self Affirmation and Self Confidence, 2) Self Control, 3) Emotional Literacy, 4) Logic and Problem Solving, 5) Interpersonal Skills and Social Understanding, and 6) Learning and Cognitive Development. These are not listed in any order of importance and in many ways are interlocking, although specific issues.
SELF AFFIRMATION AND SELF CONFIDENCE
Having a positive sense of self is essential for optimal self-regulation and adaptive functioning. A realistically positive sense of oneself also helps protect against stressful and sometimes traumatic situations that occur in life.
Self affirmation can be roughly divided into self respect and positive feelings about what we are able to do. Although these are interactive qualities, it is possible to have a positive sense of being, without positive regard for one’s abilities, or a confidence in one’s abilities while still having feelings of worthlessness, or to have both or neither. Having self respect regardless of what one can or cannot do, involves having a healthy core or primary sense of oneself that originates from living in an environment that values and cares about the individual. Such environment, unfortunately, are quite rare. Partially this is because parents are not trained in child management and tend to use what they have learned from their own parents [also untrained] as interpreted by their own theory of meaning. While generally parents do a rather good job, this is distorted by at least four factors: first, the parents meet an unexpected child [e.g., one with disabilites for which the experiential parenting pattern does not fit, or second, the parent has created for him/herself a negative cogntive triad which is imposed upon the child, third, the individual parents differ dramatically in their parenting styles and are unable to negotiate a common method thus presenting the child with dual expectations, and finally, the parents dispute and separate, leaving the child is a state of dissarray.
A secondary sense of self respect develops when others admire us for what we are able to do. For children, developing self confidence in what they are able to do can be especially challenging. The world is populated with adults and older children who are far more capable than the young child in most areas of functioning. In addition, a child’s ability to change at a relatively rapid rate, requires constant reappraisal. To develop a healthy sense of self confidence, children need consistent positive experience with a reinforcing environment for the things that they are able to do and gentle encouragement and reassurance for future maturation in those areas that are not yet well developed.
Difficulties with regard to self affirmation and self confidence arise when individuals have either a deflated or an overly inflated sense of self worth. When people do not value themselves, they feel dependent on others to bolster their feelings about themselves, which leaves them feeling very vulnerable and needy. Additionally, when positive reinforcement is not available from others, they cannot maintain an internal sense of positive self worth and when positive reinforcement is used inappropriately, it causes the child to either become over inflated in self importance or to lose trust, depending upon their acceptance of the postive regard. When self affirmation is overly inflated or grandiose, people often inadvertently invite attack and/or rejection on the part of others without realizing why this happens. Thus, a healthy sense of self affirmation and self confidence allows people to feel both independent and free to interact in an adaptive way with others. Positive experiences with important others as well as the internalization of these affective experiences are important for healthy self respect to develop.
Seligman points out that what produces self-esteem and a sense of competence and protects against depression, is not the absolute quality of experience, but the perception that one’s own actions controlled the experience. By emphasizing how a child feels, at the expense of what the child does – mastery, persistence, overcoming frustration and boredom, and meeting challenges – parents and teachers are making a generation of children more vulnerable to depression.
Praise, as indicated above, is often related to self esteem and has become a problem issue. This is particularly true when the reasons for the praise are not articulated or are not accurate. Seligman has indicated that there is no affective technology for teaching feeling good which does not teach doing well. Feelings of self esteem develop as side effects of mastering challenges. The feelings of well being is a byproduct of doing well.
In terms of cause and effect, low self esteem is a consequence of failing – not a cause. There are almost no findings showing that self-esteem causes anything at all. Rather self esteem is caused by a whole panoply of successes and failures in the world.
The results of this are that artificial praise does not help in any way. The praise must be tied to successful performance. This does not mean, however, that the student must be specifically successful. Teachers must be honest with students, but can praise incremental mastery and effort. A student who gets the wrong answer, but has improved his/her understanding of the concept or tried harder, provides an opportunity for praise which is real and such basis for praise can be articulated.
Teachers guided by the ‘feeling good’ viewpoint are ready to intervene to make the child feel better. Teachers guided by the ‘doing good’ approach are ready to intervene to change the child’s thinking about failure [in the process reframing the construct failure to feedback], to encourage frustration tolerance and to praise persistence rather than mere success.
Baugh & Chartrand have suggested that the locus of control of psychological phenomena are determined jointly by processes set into motion directly by one’s environment and by processes instigated by acts of conscious choice and will. The question of how much conscious control we have over our judgements, decisions, and behavior is one of the most basic and important questions of human existence.
Conscious processes are mental acts of which we are aware, that we intend [i.e., that we start by an act of will], that require effort, and that we can control [i.e., we can stop them and go on to something else if we choose].
In contrast, there is no consensus on the features of a single form of automatic process; instead two major strains have been identified that are similar only in that they do not possess all of the defining feature of a conscious process.
The two forms are defined as: 1) intentional but effortless mental processes and 2) preattentive or preconscious processing. These two classic forms of ‘not conscious’ mental processes; both forms operate effortlessly and without need for conscious guidance, but one [mental skills] requires an act of will to start operations, and the other [preconsciousness] does not.
Baumeister et al., concluded that consciousness plays a causal role only about 5% of the time. Most of our day-to-day actions, motivations, judgements, and emotions are not the products of conscious choice and guidance, but must be driven instead by mental processes put into operation directly by environmental features and events.
The question of being ‘in control’ , therefore, requires not only that the child address consciously his/her decisions regarding appropriate behavior, but that s/he also remain ‘mindful’ of the demands of the environment and be ready to mediate automaticity either through a) making the moment conscious and mediating the response behavior [Stop and Think – consciously addressing overt behavior], or b) by changing the limited or distressing thoughts [Cognitive Error Correction – changing a cognitive process] or c) by reducing the limiting or distressing thoughts that cause inappropriate automatic reactions [Cogntive Reconstruction – changing a cognitive structure].
Stop And Think
Being ‘in control’ through the ‘stop and think’ method, means that an individual is able to make choices about his/her actions. When someone is ‘out of control’, that person is not able to direct his/her behaviors, but rather is on ‘automatic pilot’ operating nonconsciously on habituated thoughts. Thus, to have self control in this sense, an individual must be able to both exert and to inhibit the expression of behaviors, even when parts of the brain might be signaling to do otherwise. To maintain self control, the individual must be able to override the impulse and make a decision as to whether or not the behavior should be executed. If the person decides not to act, then s/he must utilize ‘executive’ or higher brain functions to override the original impulse.
It is important to understand that while we talk about being in control, there are several factors of concern. First, there are the number of things that effect use in ways that cause us to use behaviors which are not socially competent and this is mediated by the way we think, involving both cognitive processes and structures.
It is rather amazing that this complex ability is ever achievable, but it is something that we come to expect from children as they get older.
Infants show very little ability to consciously control their behaviors, because their brains are not yet sufficiently developed and they do not have a full repetoire of behaviors – particularly, at this point, communicative. During toddlerhood, children begin to show rudimentary self control and they make great strides in learning to control their actions during the preschool years. Between kindergarten and second grade, most children undergo a major shift and become capable of maintaining remarkable good control over their behavior. Verbal mediation or internal self talk, seems to be especially important for the optimal development of self control. In addition, the repetoire of behaviors itself has expanded.
Because adequate self control is usually achieved by around the age of seven, we generally expect it in children by this age. For a wide variety of reasons [e.g., motivational, developmental delay, neurological damage, psychological conflict, etc.], some children show delays in their ability to attain self control. Because these children deviate from the developmental norm, they tend to be disruptive in the classroom and in the home. It is important to remember that such children need to be taught self control skills; it is very rare for these children to achieve self control by simply ‘trying harder’.
Self control includes several subcomponent areas that are all important for academic, as well as interpersonal success. These include 1) frustration tolerance, 2) anger management, 3) attention and concentration.
Frustration Tolerance: Some children seem to be calmer and more patient than others by nature, and this is probably due to a combination of individual differences in temperament, life experiences, environments and neurological development. When children have a low tolerance for frustration, it is especially difficult for them to learn new things. Since most learning requires some type of acquisition curve, remaining calm and patient while making mistakes and practicing new skills is important for ultimate success. Frustration can be a result of the interpretation of the even or the interpretation of the failure of meeting one’s own goals.
Learning new strategies to stop and calm down when frustrated or stressed is important for all children, but it is especially important for children with poor frustration tolerance. For these children, motor behaviors that can be used consistently and automatically [e.g., folding arms, taking a deep breath, etc.] seem to work best, especially in the beginning. Discussion of the concepts of frustration and the different kinds of behaviors that one can choose when feeling frustrated and knowing how to recognize and label these feelings are also important. As already noted, the reframing of the meaning of the abstraction ‘failure’ to the new abstraction ‘feedback’ is critical to the process of helping a child overcome feelings of frustration and the resultant anger. Feedback implies that each incident, particularly if it did not reach intended consequences, is a learning opportunity if one can take the feedback from the experience and reuse this new information.
Anger Management: Frustration is one specific type of anger; thus, strategies for handling frustration similarly apply to defuse anger in general. Anger is an extremely powerful emotion that causes disequilibrium, and so, is experienced as unpleasant. When aggressive impulses are transmitted, a very powerful message is sent for the individual to take immediate action. For this reason, controlling one’s behavior when angry is very difficult to do: it requires well developed cognitive and linguistic strategies, as well as great motivation to use them. In addition, the acting out of one’s aggressive impulses can result in a feeling of pleasure which is very reinforcing. Thus, children often confuse the discharge of aggression with the feeling of anger, and therefore state that feeling angry is a comfortable feeling. For other children, however, competing emotions such as guilt, shame, fear and so on interfere with the experience of pleasure, so that behavioral discharge is no longer experienced as comfortable.
When we talk about anger management, we are not referring to control over anger, but rather to control over the meaning of the stimuli so that we can then feel differently about the experience and control the behaviors that are motivated primarily by anger. Anger is simply a signal that something is amiss in ourselves and/or in the environment, and it generally tells us that we need to take action to correct the problem. It is, of course, very important to be able to receive this message, and it can be channeled and put to very productive uses. Of course, if you are getting angry at things that everyone else takes in stride, maybe it is not the message from you sensory system that is wrong, but the congitive meaning that the experience has for you.
Anger management involves learning to have conscious control and choice over the types of action we take. The two processes for achieving such control include both the ‘stop and think’ type of intervention in which the child learns to identify the ‘feelings’ of the emotion and then stops all action until s/he can thoughtfully mediate and select an appropriate behavior, and the process of changing limited and distorted thoughts which cause the anger response. The outcome skill of controlling the antisocial responses of anger becomes increasingly important as children get older and become able to inflict increasing damage.
Problems with anger management can range from mild [e.g., oppositional actions where a child throws temper tantrums, violates minor rules, is argumentative, stubborn or actively defiant, etc.] to severe [e.g., conduct that include such things as stealing, fire setting, cruel or destructive behavior, chronic truancy, physical assault, etc.]. Anger management techniques for this entire range of problems include such things a learning to stop and calm down, discussions about replacement behaviors once can choose when angry, role playing, and lessons on specific situations which are especially likely to be anger provoking for children [e.g., teasing].
The cognitive process and structure aspect of anger management, however, mediates the feelings of anger itself. We ‘feel’ anger only because of the meaning we give to the incident. If the meaning is distorted by limiting or distressing thoughts which are unrealistic and/or not helpful, these thoughts can be addressed directly and alternative rational thoughts can replace them. The result of this change of meaning is that the feelings of anger no longer occur in these situations – ergo, the control of angry impulses are less necessary.
It is important also to note that the attributions [explanations regarding cause] that are given are both internally and externally developed. When external people of authority suggest that the ‘locus of control’ for misbehavior is internal, stable and/or unchangeable this causes a dissonance which must be resolved. Teachers, parents and other child managers must become mindful of the messages that they send to the child
Locus of Control and Personal Responsibility: Locus of control refers to the place where we believe control is located. People differ in their perceptions of locus of control, ranging from individuals who tend to see things as generally being under their own control [i.e., people who have an internal locus of control] to individuals who perceive things as typically generating from sources outside of themselves [i.e., people who have an external locus of control].
In general, people who tend toward having an internal locus of control feel more optimistic and have better behavioral control, because they feel like they are in charge of themselves and their lives. In addition, believing in an internal locus of control, when this is appropriate, is related to the acceptance of personal responsibility or oneself and one’s actions.
These attributions of cause are very important since people make decisions about the amount of effort that they are going to make regarding a challenge/obstacle dependant upon their appraisal of successfully reaching their goals. Such appraisals are developed out of information contained in unconscious mental contexts which include appraisals of self competence, self worth, and other variables. If the appraisal suggests that I always fail because I am worthless, it is unlikely that the person will make any effort to achieve the goals, even if it is quite valuable to them.
The appraisal is often fraught with cognitive errors because of the lack of awareness of the unconscious beliefs about self, others and prospects as well as a lack of a systematic method.
The scientific method is one system for evaluation which enhances the objectivity of the conclusions. The goal of the scientific method is to accumulate facts and to develop organizing principles to relate the facts collected.
Attention and Concentration: Another aspect of self control involves the ability to attend and to concentrate. Beginning meditators are usually shocked to find that their first and immediate discovery is often about the nature of attention. Mental contents change rapidly and continuously: thoughts, sensations, feelings, worries, daydreams, inner conversations, sleepiness, fantasies, plans, memories, theories, emotions, self-instructions about the techniques, judgements about thoughts and feelings, judgements about judgements. According to Rosch3 , all meditators who sit still and use a mental technique, regardless of their tradition, purpose, or technique report these kinds of experiences. This is a point easily discoverable also by the nonmeditating reader; simply notice what the mind is doing as one tries to keep attention on some simple mental, or even physical, task.
Even more pointed than noticing the constant shifting of attention is the discovery that attention is, for the most part, indirect. That is, the mind is not sharply present with its experiences as they are happening but rather drifts about not noticing that it has left its assigned object or task until the meditator or task oriented person ‘comes back’ with a ‘jerk’ to the present. Then the meditator realizes, not only that s/he had been ‘away’, but that while s/he was wandering, s/he was not really aware of what s/he was thinking or feeling; s/he now only remembers what had been going on in his/her mind through a haze of summarizing concepts and judgements. This is not merely the case for unpleasant experiences from which one might expect a person to want to dissociate. Even the simplest or most pleasurable of daily activities eating, walking, talking with a friend tend to pass rapidly in a blur of commentary as one hastens to the next mental occupation.
In the cognitive science model of the mind, knowing was indirect. Now we see one experiential basis for modelling it in this way. However, meditators (or anyone else) can only discover the indirectness of attention by contrast, that is, by experiencing moments of being present which are less indirect than the moments of wandering. Thus an alternative experience, one of directness, has its birth at the same time as the experiental discovery of indirectness.
Problems with attention and concentration can occur for a number of reasons [e.g., anxiety, depression, neurological impairment, motivational deficits, etc.]. Difficulties which can be manifested in such behaviors as poor listening skills, daydreaming, difficulty with following instructions, fidgeting, disorganization, high or low activity levels and failure to complete work. Regardless of the cause, however, difficulties with attention and concentration are likely to affect learning. Thus, teaching strategies to improve skills in these areas can be of immense benefit.
During the course of development, children need to learn to selectively focus on those aspects of the environment that are most functional for, and relevant to, the task at hand. Control of attention includes both sustaining attention [attention span] and attending to relevant, while ignoring irrelevant cues.
Selective attention to relevant as opposed to irrelevant details is a process of perceptual differentiation which can be improved by training children to discover, distinguish and attend to distinctive or critical features. With younger, developmentally delayed, or language impaired children, a greater emphasis should be placed on discussion of materials that provide visually salient features [e.g., discussions of pictures, facial expressions and so forth]. For older or more verbal children,m distinguishing features of a linguistic and/or conceptual nature can be stressed as well.
Maintaining attention over time, or concentration, involves sustained processing of incoming information. This requires flexibility in modifying attentional focusing and in adapting attentional plans over time. Regardless of the cause of attention deficit, it is clear that improvement in functioning can occur as a child learns to mindfully address the issue. The meditative process combined with other relaxation and ‘slowing down’ techniques have proven success in helping children learn to ‘sit’ and concentrate.
Attention can be trained. The ceaseless ungrounded activity of the mind can be pacified and the mind can be taught to hold an object of attention. All meditation traditions acknowledge and use this. Almost any object of attention can be used: a sight, a mental image, the breath, a mantra, sensations, the body in motion, space. The technique is usually to return again and again to the object of meditation. The mind can be taught not only to cease wandering away from its object, at least temporarily, but also to remain alert while holding it. But then attention has to be further trained, or perhaps untrained, to let go. Holding a particular mental content is not the goal of any meditative tradition, and some traditions teach letting go in other ways. The goal is to develop (discover, click into) a different mode of knowing and being which is available to humans. The attentional aspect of this mode is that the mind appears to have the natural ability to be present with the flux of experience, the knowing and the not knowing aspects of experience, in a relaxed and natural way. From the vantage point of this kind of attention, the self and the other aspects of experience, begin to take on a rather different appearance.
Reflectivity vs. Impulsivity: Reflectivity and impulsivity refer to the cognitive tempo or style with which individuals process information; that is, the degree to which they mentally evaluate their responses before taking action on them. All children become more reflective with increasing age, but within any one age range, some children tend to be more reflective, while other children tend to be more impulsive. Moreover, these differences appear to become increasingly stable over time as children mature. Interestingly, there is only a small relationship between IQ and cognitive style.
Reflective children tend to use more systematic and planful inspection of stimuli, make more informative comparisons, show more efficient and advanced problem solving strategies and perform better on tasks requiring detailed analysis than do impulsive children. Impulsive children tend to be less attentive and more distractible. On the other hand, impulsive children tend to be more playful, curious and socially responsive. It might therefore be helpful for teachers to encourage a little more playfulness in reflective children and a little more planfulness in impulsive children.
Shifts in cognitive style can be successfully enhanced through training and experience in a variety of ways. One of the most important is self verbalization which is designed to help the child
- recognize that there is a problem and identify its features,
- initiate a strategy that will help him/her move toward a solution,
- consider the options, and
- take action on the chosen plan.
Importantly, the self rewarding self instruction is included to strengthen the child’s ‘thinking’ habit.
Identification, Internalization and Guilt: For children to acquire self control and a well developed system of values, they must observe and identify with persons of importance and authority, who have positive attributes. Models for identification can include parents, teachers, famous personalities, older kids, and so on.
As children come to identify with and internalize the values of others, they develop an internal system of morals, or a conscience. It is at this point that the emotion of guilt is first experienced. Guilt is an important signal for helping us to monitor our behaviors, and it is important to feel guilty when we do something wrong; people who do not feel guilty under these conditions [i.e., people who have poorly developed consciences] often show behaviors indicative of an antisocial personality. However, it is also possible to feel guilty when we haven’t really done anything wrong [e.g., children who blame themselves for their parent’s divorce], that results in much needless suffering. Thus, helping children to develop a flexible conscience requires our ongoing assistance.
Natheson suggest that there are eight categories of experience in which the shame affect [see below] will be triggered [save for the situation in which a biological glitch makes us feel shame on a more or less constant basis even when nothing has happened to trigger the affect], any moment of shame may be traced to one of these categories. The list of categories is both simple and obvious:
- Matters of size, strength, ability or skill;
- sense of self;
- personal attractiveness;
- issues of seeing and being seen; and
- wishes and fears about closeness.
Failure in any of these areas triggers shame, just as success brings on a moment of pride. These matters are significant at the level of the individual, our interpersonal relationships, group, or society. Furthermore, an individual who has felt deep shame at failure in one category is likely to seek success in another so that a moment of pride can (for a moment) eradicate a more chronic sense of shame. It is for this reason that restorative practice uses shame as a structural factors in the normalization or institutionalization of violence.
It has become increasingly clear that shame is reintegrative only when it takes place in an individual who had lived outside the interaffective life of the community until returned to it through a reintegrative process, and then experienced or recognized his/her chronic prior estrangement from empathic connection with the community as a blow that then produced shame. The mutative force is empathy, not shame, and the interaffective processes described in this communication are both ubiquitous and fractal at all levels of human interaction.
Cognitive Error Correction
As indicated, there are other ways to enhance self control. One way occurs through a correction of the specific cognitive errors which ‘trigger’ the emotions which lead to inappropriate behaviors. This is called cognitive error correction and addresses cognitive errors such as:
- Filtering: The person focuses on the negative details while ignoring all the positive aspects of a situation.
- Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. The person has to be perfect or s/he’s a failure. There’s no middle ground, no room for mistakes.
- Overgeneralization: The person reaches a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. S/he exaggerates the frequency of problems and uses negative global labels.
- Mind Reading: Without them saying, the person knows what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, s/he has certain knowledge of how people think and feel about him/her.
- Catastrophizing: The person expects, even visualizes disaster. S/he notices or hears about a problem and start asking, “What if?” What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to me?
- Magnifying: The person exaggerates the degree or intensity of a problem. S/he turns up the volume on anything bad, making it loud, large, and overwhelming.
- Personalization: The person assumes that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to them. S/he also compares him/herself to others, trying to determine who is smarter, more competent, better looking, and so on.
- Shoulds: The person has a list of ironclad rules about how s/he and other people should act. People who break the rules anger him/her, and s/he feels guilty when s/he violates the rules.
- Externalizing: The person expains the cause of success and/or failure as external forces such as task difficulty or luck over which s/he has no control, instead of to his/her own effort. “It’s his/her fault! S/he doesn’t like me!”
- Prophecising: The person has negative and relatively stable expectatancy or generalized beliefs about a lack of self competence in achievement situations. “I’m going to fail this test. Nobody is going to talk to me.” Prophecises negative outcomes.
For some children, the problems in living may be servere and persistent enough to require a change of cognitive structure of Self, Others and Future Prospects and the Theory of Meaning in order to reduce the negative meaning of events, thus changing the ultimate feelings about the experiences and the resultant behaviors.
Cosmides & Tooby, evolutionary psychologists provide an evolutionary perspective that leads one to view the mind as a place crowded with evolved, domain-specific programs. Each is functionally specialized for solving a different adaptive problem that arose during human evolutionary history, such as face recognition, foraging, mate choice, heart rate regulation, sleep management or predator vigilance, and each is activated by a different set of cues from the environment. But the existence of all these microprograms itself creates an adaptive problem: programs that are individually designed to solve specific adaptive problems could, if simultaneously activated, deliver outputs that conflict with one another, interfering with or nullifying each other’s functional products. For example, sleep and flight from a predator require mutually inconsistent actions, computations, and physiological states. It is difficult to sleep when your heart and mind are racing with fear, and this is no accident: disastrous consequences would ensue if proprioceptive cues were activating sleep programs at the same time that the sight of a stalking lion was activating ones designed for predator evasion. To avoid such consequences, the mind must be equipped with superordinate programs that override some programs when others are activated (e.g., a program that deactivates sleep programs when predator evasion subroutines are activated). Furthermore, many adaptive problems are best solved by the simultaneous activation of many different components of the cognitive architecture, such that each component assumes one of several alternative states (e.g., predator avoidance may require simultaneous shifts in both heart rate and auditory acuity; see below). Again, a superordinate program is needed that coordinates these components, snapping each into the right configuration at the right time.
Emotions are such programs. To behave functionally according to evolutionary standards, the mind’s many subprograms need to be orchestrated so that their joint product at any given time is functionally coordinated, rather than cacophonous and self-defeating. This coordination is accomplished by a set of superordinate programs – the emotions. They are adaptations that have arisen in response to the adaptive problem of mechanism orchestration (Tooby & Cosmides, 1990a; Tooby, 1985). In this view, the exploration of the statistical structure of ancestral situations and their relationship to the mind’s battery of functionally specialized programs is central to mapping the emotions. This is because the most useful (or least harmful) deployment of programs at any given time will depend critically on the exact nature of the confronting situation.
According to this theoretical framework, an emotion is a superordinate program whose function is to direct the activities and interactions of the subprograms governing perception; attention; inference; learning; memory; goal choice; motivational priorities; categorization and conceptual frameworks; physiological reactions (such as heart rate, endocrine function, immune function, gamete release); reflexes; behavioral decision rules; motor systems; communication processes; energy level and effort allocation; affective coloration of events and stimuli; recalibration of probability estimates, situation assessments, values, and regulatory variables (e.g., self-esteem, estimations of relative formidability, relative value of alternative goal states, efficacy discount rate); and so on. An emotion is not reducible to any one category of effects, such as effects on physiology, behavioral inclinations, cognitive appraisals, or feeling states, because it involves evolved instructions for all of them together, as well as other mechanisms distributed throughout the human mental and physical architecture.
Since these are evolutionarily evolved, they have an impact on the individual which can only be mediated by some other process; the cognitive one called thought. Thought generates and mediates feelings, which generate and mediate actions.
Vallacher indicates that mental control develops because a person can’t do everything at once. There must be some mechanism for holding the yet-to-be-discharged action components in queue, inhibiting their enactment until the appropriate time. The backlog of undischarged action components – the action queue – set the stage for mental control by creating a need for representation in the mental system.
Because the elements making up a complex action queue must become coordinated to ensure that they are executed in the appropriate combination and in the right temporal order, the resultant representation must function as more than a simple holding tank.
Impulsive or reflexive action is experienced as rewarding if it produces positive consequences [e.g., pleasure], and as punishing if it produces negative consequences [e.g., pain]. When action is time-consuming and complex and thus requires queuing, however, issues of effectiveness occupy center stage, supplanting concerns with the hedonic value of the endpoint of the action. From this deconstructed vantage point, the person might be inclined to embrace new and more function ways of thinking about the implication of his or her behavior [Wegner, Vallacher & Disakji, 1989].
1) Natheson indicates that we use the term ‘affect’ to represent any of the nine families of physiological mechanisms that underlie all emotion. The affects are a group of highly patterned muscular and circulatory actions primarily displayed as ‘facial expressions’ but also as certain odors, postures, and vocalizations. It is the evolved role of the affect system to add meaning to information derived from other systems.
The range of affective experience are characterized from 1) surprise-startle, which is triggered by any stimulus that has a sudden onset and a sudden offset, across two positive affects (the only ones that feel good), 2) interest-excitement or 3) enjoyment-joy, six negative affects including 4) fear-terror, 5) distress-anguish, 6) anger-rage, 7) dissmell, 8) disgust, or 9) shame-humiliation.
2) When we accept or pay attention to the affect that has been triggered by one of the mechanisms, it becomes what we conventionally call a ‘feeling’.
3) The combination of an affect with our memory of previous experiences of that affect is given the formal name of an ‘emotion’. Nathenson suggested that affect is always biology, whereas emotion always represents symbolically biography. Each of us has the same nine innate affects, but our life experience makes our emotions quite different. These constructs are based not on the life experiences, but on the interpretation of those experiences. We give meaning to the experiences and the result is a personal definition of the ‘emotion’.
4) Just as each time an affect is triggered we delve into memory to check our previous experiences of that affect, we can spend a variable amount of time reliving these past experiences brought to consciousness as ‘associations’ to that affect. When we get stuck in those reminiscences, a ‘mood’ is brought into play because rather than the operation of innate affect, which normally lasts only a second or so, we continue to think of situations that trigger only that one affect. Any fresh source of affect can turn off normal mood, but normal mood can last a long time.
5) There are people who cannot turn off their moods no matter what they do, and if there is no psychological reason for them to remain preoccupied with the history of their affects,s. These ‘disorders of mood’ require a correction of cognitive errors in order to change the mood.
Everyone has feelings. Feelings are important signals that provide us with information about what is going on in our external environment, as well as about what is going on internally. However, a wide range of individual differences exist with regard to 1) emotional reactivity, 2) emotional awareness, and 3) the ability to label and verbally express one’s feelings.
In order to best utilize the information provided by our feelings, it is often important to pay attention to them and to remain consciously aware of them. We will refer to this as ‘mindfulness’, and intend that the cognitive interventions as a whole are a mindful process. The reason for this is that ninety-five [95%] of all thought, feeling and behavior is nonconscious because of the habituation effect. This effect is the result of operant conditions on the central nervous system and is a significant factor in our ability to learn anything. Habituation, forgetting and distraction are not conspiratorial devices to hide a stimulus from conscious experience. One may, in fact, say that the loss of consciousness of a predictable event ‘is’ the signal that the event has been learned completely [Baar, 1988].
Even when emotions do not reach conscious awareness and we therefore don’t realize that they are there, we nevertheless continue to have them and they still affect us [i.e., we process them at an unconscious level]. This is a crucial paradox, especially with regard to painful feelings, because by not being aware of our emotions [or the thoughts that engender them], we sometimes end up being adversely affected by them, since they provide an inner logic for behaviors which may, on the surface, appear to be self destructive. On the other hand, to be conscious of painful feelings makes us aware of their presence [which we perceive as being more painful], but it also gives us the ability to have more control over our behaviors and our lives. The existence of de-automatization is one reason to believe that consciousness may be involved in debugging automatic processes that run into difficulties [Baar, 1988].
It is remarkable how much information is provided by our feelings, both conscious and unconscious. One important dimension is information regarding the extent to which we experience something as pleasurable or unpleasurable.
While such feelings are often referred to as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, such moral pejorative are not helpful, thus, we stress using the words ‘comfortable’ and ‘uncomfortable’ with regard to feelings. Anger is not a ‘bad’ emotion, despite the fact that it may make us feel uncomfortable. Another dimension that is communicated by our feelings concerns activation. That is, different affects tend to make us feel very energetic, very withdrawn, or anywhere in between; by doing so, they strongly affect our inclinations towards taking action. When these signals are strong, [e.g., rage], it can be very hard to counteract the signal to act and instead to maintain behavioral control. Feeling shy or sad, on the other hand, are signals that tell us to withdraw or deactivate.
Feelings can be located along the two dimensions of pleasure-unpleasure and activation-deactivation. Knowing these two pieces of information provides us with an organizational scheme for our emotional experiences. We want to help children make the distinction that although emotions don’t make people behave in certain ways, they do influence the way people want to act. The mediating factor is always thought.
A third dimension or piece of information communicated by our feelings involves the message to move toward or way form something. Anger, for example, is an unpleasant, activating feeling that signals to move toward something [e.g., to physically strike someone], while fear, on the other hand, is an unpleasant, activating signal to move away.
Feelings vs Behaviors: A very important object is to help children to learn to discriminate and understand the relationship among, thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Although the feeling may be acceptable, the emphasis is generally on the evaluation of behaviors and the mediating power of thought. It is important that children understand that if the feelings are generated by distorted thoughts, they must address the thoughts in order to diminish the feelings. Conversely, if the feelings are generated by appropriate thoughts, they are okay to have, but the resultant behaviors can be okay or not okay [acceptable or unacceptable in social settings], and therefore must be mediated by them.
Emotions as a Form of Communication: prior to the development of language, human beings develop a surprisingly effective form of communication based on affects. Research has shown that emotional expressions emerge in a predictable order during the first two to three years of life. These expressions then remain extremely stable across the life span. For example, at birth, babies show facial expressions of interest, a neonatal smile, startle, distress and disgust. A social smile emerges by about four to six weeks which is implicated with attachment and bonding. Emotions of anger, surprise and sadness are noted at about three to four months, while fear, shyness and shame are seen at about five to eight months. Facial expressions denoting contempt and guilt are relative latecomers, showing up during the second year. Research with children and adults has shown that these same facial expressions continue to be made at all ages [i.e., we never forget our ‘first’ language.
By the second year of life, when language emerges as a central form of communication, an entire repertoire of emotional expressions is already available to the toddler. In addition to expressive language, facial expression are used for acceptive communications as well. For prelingual infants, this is again a primary form of communication along with affective sounds and tactile sensations. Even very young infants will generally look at a caregiver’s face in order to access information about ambiguous stimuli and will often respond accordingly [a phenomenon called social referencing].
A related phenomenon, known as social contagion, involves the tendency to begin feeling similar emotion to those of people around us. For example, if our students are feeling angry, we usually notice that we start feeling angry too. Social contagion may be one reason why cultures have developed social rules about when, where and how people can display various emotions. It is important to note that teachers most often [or at least should] set the emotional tone for the class.
Emotional expressions, along with gesture, postures, intonations, tactile sensations, etc., allow for a surprisingly complex form of communication. After the onset of language, we continue to use our emotions to communicate with one another, but we are generally not conscious of it. Rather, affective communication tends to remain primarily unconscious, in that we continuously interpret emotional expressions, intonations and so forth, but don’t realize that we are doing so.
To become more conscious of emotional communications, it is important to link up emotional knowing with emotional understanding. It is only when we can verbally label and think about an experience or feeling that we can be truly conscious of it. For example, a two year old may feel furious and throw a tantrum; however, unless the child has learned a label for anger that is associated with his/her motoric behavior, s/he will not consciously realize that s/he is tantruming because s/he is angry, even though the feelings may be very strong.
Being able to label feelings provides us with a more integrated knowledge base, as opposed to having two parallel, separated systems [i.e., affective and linguistic]. In addition, labeling feelings allows us to have more control over our own behaviors and those of others. Thus the child who is able to appropriately verbalize, ‘I feel frustrated’ is far less likely to throw a tantrum than the child who is unable to do so. In neuropsychological terms, teaching children to make associations between feeling labels and emotional states means that we are facilitating the development of neurological connections between the left and right hemispheres to allow for optimal interhemispheric communication, that in turn, promotes better control over motoric discharge. In cognitive terms, the child is able, through the use of a verbal mantra [a sanskrit word meaning ‘reminder’] to bring the experience into consciousness and therefore to mediate responses.
Because emotional communications are often complex [e.g., involving unconscious motivations, conscious intentions, etc.], when we want to know how we are feeling or how other people are feeling, it is usually necessary to collect many pieces of data [including our own internal feeling states], analyze all of the information available, and then form our best ‘hypotheses’. There are many times when we cannot accurately understand how another person is feeling simply by looking at his or her face.
Developmental Issues and Emotional Understanding: As children mature, they become increasingly more sophisticated in their emotional understanding. For example, young children often think of feelings as occurring one at a time and have difficulty grasping that someone can feel both a comfortable and uncomfortable feeling at the same time. During middle childhood, however, children come to understand that different types of feeling states can occur simultaneously.
Another example of developmental maturation in emotional understanding involves the idea that emotions can be hidden or changed and that there are times when we want to utilize these aspect of emotional control. Many children believe that the only way that their feeling states can change is for the external environment to change [e.g., to get their parents to take them for pizza]; in turn, this perception of being externally controlled is frequently associated with a feeling of helplessness. Because of this belief, children often feel like they are helpless victims and either passively ‘give up’ or actively try to control other people. The ability to change affective states through the use of internal strategies, on the other hand, is a very powerful form of self control [albeit one that is very difficult]]; in addition, having a sense of internal control tends to be associated with feelings of self-confidence and pride. Due to the complexity of these concepts, lessons on emotional control [e.g., hiding and changing feelings] are important.
INTERPERSONAL SKILLS & SOCIAL UNDERSTANDING
Relationships are important in all areas of our lives: at home, at school, at work, at play, and so forth. Learning the skills and understanding of developing meaningful and gratifying relationships with others is a critical educational path. Some of the important components would include:
Friendships and Other Peer Relations: Getting along with peers and having friends are two very important issues in all phases of development after toddlerhood. The ways that children learn to relate to their peers can even affect their ability to relate to others and their personal adjustment during adulthood.
Learning to Cooperate: the ability to cooperate with others is an important skill and one that is likely to become even more crucial for adapting in the future. Learning to cooperate and work together is encouraged during group problem solving meetings.
Learning to Compete: Competition is another aspect of daily life that is important for adaption. Learning to compete in a healthy way requires substantial control over aggressive impulses. Component skills in learning to compete include such things as following rules [even though this may result in losing], maintaining respect for one’s competitors, not humiliating one’s competitors when they lose, handling one’s own winnings and losses with dignity, and so forth.
Learning and Using Good Manners: Learning and using good manners are important skills that indicate respect for others and a desire to maintain social order. In addition to teaching basic vocabulary, it must be emphasized that manners are types of behaviors that can be chosen and judged [e.g., polite or good manners vs. rude or bad manners] and that these behaviors affect the way other people feel and respond. You should also highlight the importance of body language and other cues and the differences between behaviors that accompany genuine feeling states [e.g., saying ‘I’m sorry’ when one truly feels sorry] and those that don’t [e.g., saying ‘I’m sorry’ when one does not really feel sorry].
One of the main goals is to help children understand the importance of using good manners so that they will voluntarily want to use them. In other words, to encourage the internalization of social understanding and of socially appropriate behavior.
LOGIC & PROBLEM SOLVING
When we refer to problem solving, we are primarily alluding to interpersonal problem solving. However, given the right learning environment, the skills used with interpersonal problems can be generalized to other types of problems. In addition, the word ‘problem’ relates to any type of situation that we want to figure out, not simply issues that cause us worry or concern.
Analytic Thinking: One of the more powerful tools available to us is the use of analytic thinking. When we analyze a problem, we objectively reflect on or think about a situation before we take any action. Teach children the importance of ‘stopping to think’ first, and then begin teaching basic analytic thinking skills [e.g., identifying a problem, thinking about its component parts, etc.]. Emphasize the use of information collection [e.g., gathering clues] in order to make the best possible guess with regard to interpreting feelings, situations and the like. In addition, point out that different people often interpret the same event in very different ways and there is often no one right answer [e.g., in defining a problem situation.
Abstract Reasoning: Although advanced abstract reasoning ability is not theoretically possible for most children until early adolescence [i.e., until they are capable of logical operational thinking], it is possible to teach rudimentary abstract reasoning skills to elementary school children. For example, thinking about and solving hypothetical problems involves some degree of abstract reasoning. Similarly, thinking ahead about the consequences of particular actions or conceptualizing a long term plan also requires abstract thinking. Thus the thinking processes are emphasized as instrumental for preparing students to utilize adaptive abstract reasoning skills during adolescence and adulthood.
Flexibility in Thinking: Our ability to cope successfully is greatly enhanced when we are able to alter and modify our plans, rather than being locked into rigid, habitual behaviors. Shure suggests that alternative thinking is the most important aspect of intelligence and this is echoed by Hofstadter, who puts it in terms of creating analogies. Thus, it is important to encourage flexibility in thinking about various situations and experiences. In lessons on generating alternatives, flexibility in thinking is especially emphasized. In these lessons, students are asked to generate all of the possible solutions they can think of, regardless of their positive or negative nature. This promises flexibility and creativity in thinking, without rigid censorship [censorship based on judgements of values will come later].
Decision Making and Planning Skills: Optimal problem solving requires the development of a number of component decision making skills. First, when we have a problem, we usually need to have some idea of what our goal is for solving it. Once we are aware of where we want to go, we must generate possible solutions and contemplate their possible consequences. Once we have weighed the different possibilities, we must then decide on the solution(s) that is (are) most likely to result in our reaching our goals.
Many problems are complex, so that a simple solution is not generally sufficient. Rather, after we have chosen a potentially good solution, it is usually necessary to formulate a plan for how to execute it. To formulate a plan we must think about hypothetical obstacles, all of which are developmentally difficult tasks. Formulating plans can be given considerable attention within the problem solving process.
Evaluation Skills: When we think about potential consequences and decide which solution to choose from a group of alternatives, we must use evaluative skills. In addition, the solutions we try should all be evaluated after we have executed them, as this is part of the ongoing learning process of life. If we learn that our solutions are successful, then we have information that similar solutions are likely to work in the future. If we find that they are not successful, we can analyze what went wrong. Once we understand the obstacles that prevented success [i.e., the ‘problem within the problem’], we can attempt to correct the situation [e.g., by making a new or revised plan, reformulating or choosing a different solution, or by altering our original goal]. In the long run, evaluating and learning from our problems can be as important as successfully solving them. Because evaluation is so important, it should be stressed in many areas of teaching.
Understanding Success and Failure: An important aspect of social interaction, problem solving and education in general involves one’s beliefs about success and failure. Our beliefs about the causes of success and failure can effect how we feel, as well as our level of motivation. For example, if we believe that our success is due to effort and hard work, we usually feel happy and proud. Our self respect and motivation are thus enhanced. On the other hand, if we believe that our failure is due to lack of ability, we are likely to feel insecure and helpless. Self respect and motivation are then affected in a negative way.
Because children are often incorrect in their interpretations of the causes for success and failure, it is very important to explain these links to them. For example, if a child says. ‘I can’t’, when in reality s/he is not trying, it is important to explain how these are different. On the other hand, it is equally important not to tell a child s/he is not trying hard enough when there is truly a deficit in ability. Thus, it is crucially important for you to carefully consider the various possibilities for success and failure and to teach your students to do the same. This process can be incorporated in understanding why certain problem solving outcomes are successful and why others are not. In addition, this concept can be applied thought the classroom day [e.g., I think you must feel proud of that story because you worked so hard on it.].
Finally, it is important to understand the meaning of success and failure.
Problem Prevention: We can’t avoid having problems in our lives, so learning to solve them is a critical skill. However, some problems can be avoided and when this is possible, to old adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ is usually applicable.
OTHER SOCIAL EMOTIONAL CONCEPTS
Perspective Taking And Role Taking Skills: One of the most important components for competent social understanding and for the motivation to engage in prosocial behaviors is the development of adequate perspective taking skills. Practice with role playing different points of views can greatly facilitate prosocial understanding and behaviors.
Perspective taking requires at least three component skills: 1) The ability to take another person’s point of view, 2) the ability to interpret or understand what another person is likely to be thinking and feeling; and 3) The motivation to use these skills and to care about the feelings of others. Although the first two skills generally improve with maturation, the motivation to use these skills and to care about others may not. For all three of these components, experience and the responses of significant adults to these experiences play important roles in their development.
Empathy also seems to serve as a deterrent to antisocial behavior. For example, when juvenile delinquents received training in role taking skills that included taking the perspective of their victims, they evidenced a significantly lower recidivism rate compared to similar delinquents who had not received any intervention. It seemed that identifying with their victims and experiencing their victim’s affective perspectives, made it difficult to again play the role of perpetrator. Interestingly, prior to intervention, most of the delinquents were not deficient in their abilities to utilize perspective taking skills, but rather were motivated not to use them. In other words, developing adequate role taking skills is probably necessary, but not sufficient, for using them. In order to act prosocially, we must also be motivated to care about how other people feel. Practice through role playing and identification appears to be at least one way to promote this type of motivation.
It is especially helpful to have children take both [or multiple] sides of a particular issue to facilitate the development of, and motivation to take different perspectives of a given event. This is especially crucial for children who have difficulties in this area. Perspective taking can also be promoted in less time-consuming ways. For example, during class discussions of personal or lesson situations, you can ask students to think about how they would feel if the same thing happened to them. Similarly, you can ask you students to identify with characters in stories, from their history texts, in the news, etc., and ask them how they would feel if they were in the same circumstances.
Insight and Self awareness: Having insight into oneself and being able to consciously aware of one’s own perspectives, feelings, motivations and so forth, allows for a greater degree of control over one’s choices and behaviors. Children can learn much about themselves by discussing their feelings, role playing, problem solving and so forth.
Understanding the Intentions of Others: Conscious and unconscious thoughts affect the way we feel about things. For example, if someone accidentally steps on our toe and immediately apologizes, we generally accept the apology and do not hold a grudge. If someone does the exact same action on purpose, however, or worse yet gleefully laughs about it, we are likely to respond instead with rage and a wish for revenge. In other words, the manner in which we interpret the intent behind the behavior, or the causal attribution we make, will affect our feelings and our responses to it. Moreover, the links or associations between causal attributions and subsequent responses are learned during the process of socialization.
The above situation is one example of intentionality, or the difference between doing something ‘on purpose’ versus ‘by accident’. This is a very important distinction that children need to acquire and one which is often difficult for children to make.
LEARNING AND COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT
Verbal Mediation and Internal Language: Verbal mediation refers to the spontaneous use of ‘inner speech’ during the thinking process. To the lay person, verbal mediation is often considered as synonymous with ‘thinking’, but it is actually one form of thinking. During the first two or so years of life, the infant/toddler does not think in language. Although the preschool age child may be capable of linguistic thought, s/he rarely thinks spontaneously in this manner, but generally tends to think visually as well as motoricaly. When they do think linguistically, five year olds frequently do so aloud, that is, by talking to themselves. Between the ages of five and seven, however, children increasingly engage in private speech, or verbal mediation, while thinking. By the age of seven, most children frequently engage in spontaneous verbal mediation; that is, they can think linguistically and do so privately and silently. Thus, the ability to spontaneously utilize internalized verbal mediation results in a seven year old child who is qualitatively different from his/her five year old counterpart. With regard to this shift in linguistic development, children of average intelligence show a peak in the use private speech between the ages of five and seven, while brighter children demonstrate a peak at about the age of four.
Vygotsky believed that inner speech originated in, and was stimulated by, early social experience. Moreover, the development of internal verbal mediation provides a new means through which children can understand, organize and learn to control their behavior. For example, such skills as the ability to focus attention and the ability to inability undesirable motoric behaviors are facilitated through the use of inner speech. Verbal mediation also allows children to interpret, mentally transform and reconstruct reality in new ways. Further, through the use of internal language, children can gradually gain conscious awareness of and control over their affective experiences. In short, verbal mediation plays a crucial role with regard to many aspect of development, including self control , self regulation, emotion understanding, memory and the growth of cognitive development in general.
Expressive Language: Learning to express oneself clearly and accurately is obviously an important skill. In order to communicate well to others, it is necessary to have an adequate vocabulary, to take the perspective of the listener, to articulate clearly, to use inflections and intonations correctly, to order one’s thought processes in a logical manner and so forth. In addition, it is also important to feel comfortable, especially when ‘public’ speaking is involved. Many people feel intimidated and anxious about speaking before an audience of any kind, even responding before a class of peers.
Expressive language can be encouraged when a atmosphere is fostered where students understand that everyone has important things to say and that there are no simple right and wrong answers. Students should be encouraged to share their own ideas and examples from their own experiences. Most children are extremely eager to do this, once they feel sure that it is safe to do so. It is amazing how attentive children become to their teachers and classmates as a result of this process. Children [and adults] are very interested in the affective experiences of others, so attention tends to improve ‘automatically’ when communication centers around these types of issues. When children learn that they can effectively command the interest and attention of their peers, they become more self confident about speaking up, which generally results in improvements in their expressive communications. This in turn tends to improve class attention and a very positive spiraling effect ensues.
It has also been noted that children are more likely to ‘risk’ speaking up in class when information is emotionally important to them. Sharing personal experiences can therefore be an especially important tool to use with children with expressive language difficulties who otherwise tend to avoid using language [e.g., children who are deaf, language disabled, shy, withdrawn, etc.].
We emphasize two important caveats with regard to sharing ideas and experiences by students. First, many children do not speak clearly. If children are not easy to understand [because of soft speech, poor articulation, sloppy signing, rambling or confused content, etc.], other children are not likely to pay attention to them. However, if the teacher stops and reminds them to speak louder, repeat, themselves, and so forth, when they are relating something that is meaningful to them, you will probably interfere with the affective force behind the communication. It is therefore recommended that you remind students to speak loudly or sign clearly before you actually begin a lesson. In addition, whenever communication is not easily understood, we suggest that you repeat what the child has said with optimal affect [either verbatim or in a paraphrased form] this is extremely helpful for maintaining classroom interest and it is very reinforcing to the speaker, who will generally feel flattered that his or her message was important enough for you to remember. Similarly, it is helpful to clarify messages that are confusing by asking appropriate questions or by checking with the child to be sure that your paraphrase is accurate. Teachers who do this consistently tend to have the highest level of attention from their students. In addition, their students tend to spontaneously improve their ‘public’ speaking skills over time, probably at least in part due to acceptance and modeling. Conversely, when teachers did not repeat poorly communicated messages, they tend to have the most problems with student inattention. In other words, clarifying communication is extremely important for maintaining interest in the content of the material, as well as for facilitating the development of competent expressive language skills.
The second caveat regarding class discussions is that information shared by students is usually very personally meaningful. Therefore, it is very important to respond empathically and respectfully to these communications, even thought they may seem inconsequential. This is sometimes quite difficult to do, because of time limitations, multiple demands for attention, lack of apparent affect in the communication, and so forth. Nevertheless, is important to always try to keep in mind the potent effect and influence that your manner of responding will have with regard to such affect-laden material. Moreover, your sense of respect for others will be communicated to the students in you class.
In addition to the sharing of experiences during class discussion, expressive language is also encouraged through the use of dialoguing. Self expression is also emphasized in the lessons on vocabulary for logical reasoning and with labeling of emotions.
Receptive Language: receptive language can be improved in all of the ways noted above concerning expressive language. Learning to attend and listen to others is a significant skill for children to practice and master.
Reading and the Use of Reference Materials: A number of original stories with emphasis on emotion content are available [See PATHS] for you to read to your students. Because of the content, children tend to respond with a great deal of enthusiasm to these stories and are therefore highly motivated to read them for themselves, even when the vocabulary is relatively difficult. Parenthetically, it can be noted that one of the major criticisms of educational readers today involves the lack of affect in the stories.
One method of focusing reading stories that has been found particularly effective is to have the children follow along with their copies while you read to them and then to have them reread the story themselves [or in smaller reading groups]. Activity sheets and/or comprehension questions can also be used for supplementary reading instruction. “How did the character feel? That character had a problem – who can identify what it was?”, etc.
Creative Writing and Language Arts: It is suggested that children write and illustrate their own stories, which generally they love to do. Sharing these stories with others can also facilitate reading skills. For children with difficulty in reading and writing a creative project can be developed in which a situation is tape recorded [a class trip for example] and the tape then transcribed. All of the dialogue is in vocabulary that the child know and uses. Pictures can be taken with a camera that can be added to the text. A book can then be produced with writing and pictures which was written by the children and which they can then read to their family and friends. After this experience, each child can be encouraged to take a tape recorder and camera and create his/her own book about a subject of their choosing. Finally, the child can be encouraged to write a diary and illustrate it with his/her own drawings.
Spelling: Whenever you introduce new words, the children should be encouraged to say and spell the words at least two times. Among other things, this provides for enjoyable group practice with spelling. Children should also be encouraged to talk about the meaning of these new words, form specific definitions using their own language and form sentences using these new words. You might also want to teach you students the sign language alphabet and have them practice the words with the use of finger spelling. This method provides a sensorimotor strategy for learning to spell that can generalize to spelling in general.
OTHER AREAS OF EDUCATION
Visual Perception and Nonverbal Concept Formation: Two important by frequently underaddressed aspect of learning involve visual-perceptual processing and nonverbal concept formation. Learning to discriminate relevant from irrelevant information is an important aspect of perceptual development. You may have students who could benefit from extra instruction in systematic visual search, analyzing and forming visual concepts, and/or being aware of ambiguous information [e.g., children with certain types of learning disabilities] who may need supplemental instruction. It is relatively easy to supplement this instruction with pictures of your won: Simply copy any picture and use liquid corrector [e.g., ‘white out’] to delete certain cues on the copy, and draw in new ambiguous information. Most newspapers also carry on the comic page a two segmented picture in which one has five or six non-obvious differences which need to be found.
Creativity: Creativity is an important component for learning and for life in general. Creativity can be cultivated artistically [e.g., in children’s drawings and acting ability], linguistically [e.g., in their verbal examples and written stories], cognitively [e.g., in making creative plans or solutions, and so forth. The works of Edward DiBono can be explored for further expansion of creativity.
Curiosity, Interest and Motivation for Learning: Motivation, fueled by curiosity and interest, is one of the important ingredients necessary for learning. Most children begin formal education with strong motivation,but it often seems to disappear quickly, especially in those children who learn at a slower pace or who have specific difficulties that interfere with achievement. Helping children regain an internal sense of motivation is critical if students are going to benefit from instruction.
Social competence can best be conceptualized as consisting of several interacting components that operate on one another to produce a kind of self-perpetuating cycle, elements of which may be operating at a very automatic stereotyped level. Social competence is a construct that summarizes this entire chain of events.
The components of the model include:
Overt behaviors – refer to directly observable behaviors, or what the individual does both verbally and nonverbally in an interpersonal context.
a) Frequency and quality of social interactions. Specifically, the amount of time spent alone, observing peers, and interacting with peers and adults and the interactions are also coded as involving cooperative, affectionate, noncompliant, derogatory, or attacking behavior. Behavioral ratings are significantly related to sociometric ratings.
(1) their spatial proximity to other children;
(2) the amount of physical contact with others;
(3) the frequency of aggressive episodes; and
(4) the children’s location in relation to the rest of the group.
b) Nonverbal behaviors (such as facial expressions, gestures, gaze, spatial behavior, nonverbal aspects of speech, bodily contact and appearance), as well as verbal acts (e.g., instructions, questions, comments, informal chatting, performance utterances, social routines, and the expression of emotional states, attitudes, and latent messages).
Covert behaviors (cognitive processes) – refer to the thoughts and images (self-statements, expectancies, appraisals, etc.) that precede, accompany, and follow overt behaviors, as well as the thinking skills and styles of information processing that the individual employs in social situations.
a) Internal dialogue that accompanies behavior and reflects the individual’s thoughts and feelings about the situation and/or him or herself
negative self-referent ideation – anxious, self deprecating thoughts particularly about performance tasks.
taking an examination
responding to social challenges
performing in athletic competition
failure to adopt a problem solving set.
b) Appraisals/Attributions of the cause of succesful and failing performance leading to internal/external, stable/unstable, and changable/unchangable types.
c) Expectancies with which the individual approaches the situation and his or her appraisal of situational or personal outcomes, as well as the amount and nature of the social information that the individual possesses about the situation. Expectancies represent the individual’s personal prediction (whether from previous experience or the affective meaning that the situation holds for him or her) about what will happen in a given social situation
Social outcomes represent the wide range of events to which an individual may have some cognitive or behavioral reaction. These may include tangible results (e.g., another person’s verbal or nonverbal response), as well as internal events (such as physiological reactions, mood states, etc.). It is not the social outcome per se that is important, but the individual’s appraisal of this outcome.
The model suggests that expectancies and appraisals of social outcomes interact in complex ways with one another and with social behavior.
d) Individual’s ability to create and maintain positive and supportive social environments. Social competence must include not only the individual’s cognitive or behavioral response to a social situation, but his or her active engendering of a changing social environment.
e) Social cognition – the intuitive or logical representation of others, that is, how the individual characterizes others and makes inferences about their covert inner psychological experience
f) Social problem solving thinking
(1) sensitivity to interpersonal problem situations;
(2) generation of alternative solutions to a problem situation;
(3) means-ends thinking (the ability to plan, step-by-step, toward attainment of an intra- or interpersonal goal);
(4) the tendency to weigh consequences in terms of their probable effectiveness and social acceptability; and
(5) the ability to perceive cause-and-effect relations in interpersonal events.
g) Role-taking skills – the ability to take the perspective of another person
(1) person perception (the characterization of what an individual is like),
(2) empathy (the ability to perceive and feel another’s affective state), and
(3) referential communication, (the ability to effectively communicate with another person).
h) Information processing styles – Chunking of information – the way information is chunked has important effects on the individual’s proficiency in the performance of an act.
(1) level of organization and the use of inferences in their descriptions of others.
(2) It is not the ability to chunk per se that is important for effective behavior, but the fit between the task and the information- processing strategy employed.
i) Automaticity – the degree to which a behavior will be enacted ‘mindlessly’ or without intentional cognitive activity.
(1) conscious, controlled process that produces slow but accurate performance,
(2) automatic process that allows the rapid execution of highly stereotyped response sequences without the necessity of conscious control
(3) individual’s ability, not only to recognize the information-processing demands of the situation, but also to adjust appropriately between automatic and controlled modes of operating.
Meaning system (cognitive structures) – refers in the present theory of meaning which leads to an inner logic that provides motivation and direction for both thought and behavior
(3) future prospects in general and specific social settings – the nature and number of an individual’s concerns about social situations should be predictive of the magnitude of anxiety in social situations, and thus the potential for distortion of social information and/or interference with. socially competent behavior.
The nature of an individual’s concerns should also be predictive of the generality of social anxiety across situations (parties, informal small gatherings, interviews, dates, casual conversations, etc.) and the particular situations in which it might occur.
(1) The accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in self and others
(a) identify and label emotions: must be able to understand feelings and use words to describe them.
(b) must be able to identify and identify explanatory style
(c) must be able to express emotions effectively [the meaning of communication is the response it evokes]
(2) The adaptive regulation of emotions in self and others
(a) emotional control: must be able to mediate impulsive responses to strong emotions
(3) The utilization of emotions to plan, create and motivate action.
(a) must be able to place an affirmative value on self; either because of demonstrated competence and other response, realistic acceptance of self as becoming, or acceptance of the self as you are
(b) must be able to use emotional content to motivate to reach personal goals
Each of these domains manifest primary and secondary indications of problems in living. In reviewing them by each domain, we admit to overlap of concern between and among domains. Nonetheless, the presentation of these issues seems to mandate a social learning intervention.
SELF AFFIRMATION AND SELF CONFIDENCE
As was noted above, the issue of self respect is an effect, not a cause, and thus, is itself, and indicator of concern. The lack of self respect is indicated primarily by thoughts of self as object, not subject. Because of the capacity of human beings, we can see ourselves both as subject – the person in control of the situation – the one who takes action; or as object – the one who is being acted upon. Generally speaking, we find that the thoughts about self as subject are more positive than thoughts about self as object, where often we are perceiving ourself as a victim. The epitome of subject thinking is the thought “I can’t!” – in which case the person is not only saying that they have not the skills nor the resources [confidence, etc.], but they are saying ‘it is out of my control’.
A secondary indicator is the list of accomplishments. If a child is failing in school and has little ability to compete with others across a range of domains, s/he is likely a candidate for not only a lack of self respect, but for depression and learned helplessness as well. Only when the child is able to describe him/herself as being in control of his/her own actions is s/he likely to be able to succeed. This ‘chicken and egg’ aspect requires that the school intervene both on the thoughts and the behaviors in a manner which can support the child taking personal responsibility for the outcomes of performance.
The primary indicator of a loss of self control is behavior [inappropriate and disruptive]. When such behavior occurs, the underlying factor is usually limiting and/or distressing thoughts. Often the child who thinks of him/herself as an object, attempts to retake control of situations through the use of physical power.
The secondary indicator of most important is the ‘self talk’ that accompanies the behavior. One cannot understand the behavior without an understanding of the inner logic which controls the behavior. Self talk, particularly at times of stress, provides specific clues as to the cognitive errors which drive the behaviors. Since it has been concluded that consciousness plays a causal role in only about 5% of our actions, this inner logic may not be known by the child.
Calmness and patience are the words used to describe those who are able to avoid frustration. Thus the lack of such behavior manifestations would indicate a lack of frustration tolerance. It is important to identify the child’s meaning of the abstraction ‘failure’.
Anger management has as its primary indicator the physical manifestation of anger: aggression, loss of control, facial features, etc. Underlying these indicators will be other thought indicators including ‘hostile attributions’ concerning others. When these thoughts are persistent, pervasive and severe, it will be important to ascertain who instigates and maintains such thoughts.
Since anger generally is connected with ‘external’ thoughts – what others have done to trespass, it is important to ascertain the persons true social status through sociometric means.
Locus of Control and Personal Responsibility
The primary indicators are the child’s thoughts concerning ‘locus of control, stability and controllability and the resultant ‘expectancy effects’, which indicate to the child how much s/he should try in performance of tasks. If a child’s expectations are of failure, it cannot be expected that the child will do homework, take tests, etc., which are the underpinnings of learning.
The behaviors of avoidance are often described as ‘failing to take personal responsibility’, but in fact, are just the opposite. It would be personally irresponsible to undertake a task that was impossible for you to complete successfully.
Attention and Concentration
The manifestation of behaviors are taken to indicate that the child has a problem in this area. However, such manifestations do not necessarily suggest that the child cannot attend and concentrate, only that s/he does not. The frequency and consistency of the behaviors are very important. Children identified as ADHD, for example, seem to be able to attend and concentrate in different situations with different care managers. It would be important, therefore, to identify the child’s locus of control and the resultant expectation they have as to their own ability to attend and concentrate.
Reflectivity vs Impulsivity
This subdomain is very much like the one above and would have the same indicators. A further exploration of self talk [or the lack of it] may be an important indicator.
Identification, Internalization and Guilt
An important indicator may include who the child identifies as hero, important, and personally favored. A child who sees ‘gangstas’ as their primary role models will probably manifest little guilt, and perhaps even pride, at certain types of antisocial behaviors.
Obviously, a lack of remorse for certain behaviors would indicate a lack of shame and an ‘inner logic’ which admires antisocial behavior.
The first and most important indicators of emotional literacy is the child’s ability to identify and describe the emotions s/he is feeling at any given time with a reasonable accuracy. The labeling of emotions is a learning process and children sometimes confuse anger and sadness. Truly understanding the child’s emotional status will therefore requires some delving and probing to get clear what the child is describing.
A second indicator is to understand the child’s ‘modus operandi’ regarding each of the emotions. Such responses are also generally learned, although more by imitative behaviors rather than formal thought processes, and are combined with the natural impulses.
Finally, a heightened emotion state sets the stage for further perceptions. Thus an anxious child is likely to ‘see’ fearful objects everywhere; while an angry child ‘sees’ threats.
Feelings and Behaviors
It is important for the assessor to gather information regarding the child’s understanding about how emotions fit with thoughts and behaviors. When emotions are seen as the primary factor of the three, the child becomes the object/victim of his/her emotionality and is unable to not respond to the power of the emotion.
Emotions as a Form of Communication
Communication is an interactive process requiring more than one person. Each person plays two roles: 1) communicator and 2) receiver. In affective communication, the information is contained in facial expressions, gestures, posture, intonation etc. The primary indicators would be a) how well does the child indicate what s/he wants to indicate through these means, and b) how well dos the child ‘read’ the communication of others. While much of the response is set by epigenetic rules, the child also learns how to interpret these signals from the culture and significant others. When a child distorts or generalizes these signals inappropriately, it can lead to uncomfortable experiences when none exists.
Developmental Issues and Emotional Understanding
We often confuse neurological or other biological issues as negating a child’s ability to understand emotions when in fact they only inhibit the process of learning. Children with information processing difficulties often do not learn to incorporate emotional understanding effectively. The key indicators, however is not that the child does not understand, but that the child proves incapable of understanding. This can only be determined after a prolonged experience in learning [prolonged because the child not only has to learn how to do these things, s/he will need to overcome the process s/he has been using to date.
INTERPERSONAL SKILLS & SOCIAL UNDERSTANDING
The primary indicator is the presence of mutually gratifying and satisfying relationships with adults and peers.
Friendships and Other Peer Relations
Developing a sociogram can give specific information regarding the social status of the child among his/her peers. A caution must be used to access social groups other than the classroom, particularly where the child is somehow ‘different’ from the group. A student who recently arrived in this country, for example, may have good social skills and understanding, but have not yet been able to implement these in a classroom where none of his peers has the same experiences. This does not mean that a problem does not exist, but if the child has ethnic friends and participates well in those circumstance, the problem is to teach the present usage, not all usage of social skills.
Learning to Cooperate
Cooperation has many levels. One may cooperate well with friends, but not so well with acquaintances or those not known. The highest levels of cooperation may well take place among those who see themselves as enemies [this is often called diplomacy]. It is also important to understand that cooperation may occur in some domains and not others, even with the same people. The absence of cooperation is not always indicative of a problem in living, although it may create a problem in the environment.
Learning to Compete
Appropriate competition in many ways requires more social skills than cooperation for one must control the impulse to ‘win at any cost’ and to work within the framework of the competition. Breaking the rules, humiliating the loser, overpersonalizing loss, and other such behaviors are the primary indicators.
Learning and Using Good Manners
There is a hidden problem here since good manners are culturally determined and what is good in one culture may not be so good in another. While absence of ‘good manners’ is a primary indicator, it is important to gain information about what the child understands as good manners. If the child is from a culture whose ‘good manners’ differ from the school culture, this is a developmental rather than a remedial issue.
LOGIC & PROBLEM SOLVING
Interpersonal problems solving and solving problems in general are not the same thing although they have similar processes. Logic, as demonstrated by Godel’s uncertainty principle, cannot solve all problems because formal systems such as mathematics are prone to self reflective inhibitors in the same manner that ‘this sentence is false’ demonstrates in linguistics. One of the reasons that interpersonal exchanges pose problems is that the language is so ambiguous and logic can certain be used to begin to sort some of this out.
This method is a powerful tool for identifying and changing distressing and limiting thoughts. The absence of its use, however, is not necessarily meaning that it must be used. The clearest indicator of the need for analytic thinking may be when distortions or generalizations in thinking occur in a way that is debilitating. Teaching children to examine their own thoughts analytically can help them to determine whether or not such thoughts are helpful or harmful in reaching their goals. Analytic thinking can help to overcome a failed ‘inner logic’ which is causing problems in living.
All of us, even relatively young children use abstractions. Each generalization is an abstraction at a higher logical level. When we make generalizations, we group experiences into a common term. ‘Failure’ is an abstraction, which can also be defined as a ‘complex equivalent’. The latter designation exists because the listener cannot know what is meant by the abstraction ‘failure’ without knowing the components that have gone into the abstraction. It is important, therefore, to identify generalizations in the child’s dialogue and to ask the child specifically what such an abstraction means. When the child says, my mother doesn’t love me – what does s/he mean by ‘love’? Surely s/he doesn’t mean the same thing as you do – our abstractions about love are quite different as adults and children and additionally cover a wide range of loves. Mother love, romantic lover and friendship are all variables. Asking a question such as ‘what would your mother do if she loved you?, may open up some areas to understand the abstractions.
Flexibility in Thinking
This method of thinking is often called alternative thinking and represents a major component of problem solving. Asking the child to general alternative ways to think about a situation and measuring how many options s/he is able to generate is important. Children who are unable to see more than one or two alternatives obviously need help in making their thinking more flexible.
Decision Making and Planning Skills
Decision making and planning require the ability to organize thinking into patterns. For example, in order to make a decision, the child will need to separate out his/her needs and wants, and then weigh the wants to determine how important they are to the overall decision. The indicator is the child pattern of thinking when making a decision or planning an event. Asking a child to decide something or plan something and then asking questions about how they made the decision and/or plan will help to determine whether these skills need attendance.
When using evaluative skills, we require that there first be a standard. Gilovich indicates that scientists utilize a set of formal procedures to guard against the source of bias and error discussed – a set of procedures of which the average person is insufficiently aware, and has not adequately adopted in daily life. Perhaps the most fundamental safeguard is the requirement that the meaning of various outcomes be precisely specified [in advance if possible] and objectively determined.
A distinction must be made between the process involved in generating versus testing ideas: between what philosophers of science have referred to as the ‘context of discovery’ and the ‘context of justification’
Humans seem generally to be extremely good at generating ideas, theories, and explanations that have the ring of plausibility. They are often, however, relatively deficient in evaluating and testing out ideas once they are formed. One of the biggest impediments is our failure to realize that when we do not precisely specify the kind of evidence that will count to support our position, we can end up ‘detecting’ too much evidence for our preconceptions.
Our expectations can often be confirmed by any of a set of ‘multiple endpoints’ after the fact, some of which we would not be willing to accept as criteria for success beforehand. Thus, a child may evaluate poorly not because s/he does not have evaluation skills, but that s/he has not determined the criteria to consider.
Understanding Success and Failure
The primary behavior indicator is that the child is unwilling to participate in certain or all performance tasks.
This is in many ways what was discussed in locus of control. Based on the child’s beliefs about control, thoughts about self as object, and other limiting beliefs [e.g., ‘I am stupid’], a child can have reduced expectations for achievement. The potency of the expectancy effects underscores the idea that expectations can produce self-sustaining, as well as self-fulfilling prophecies.
The subordinate’s .performance may be sustained by the low self-expectations that s/he has internalized, and not by the expectations of others. It is important, therefore, not only to identify the indicator of the child’s expectations of success and failure, but to identify another indicator of whether there is a source which instigates and maintains such thoughts – credible low expectations communicated by an authority figure – and/or whether the lowered expectations have become a self-sustaining.
OTHER SOCIAL EMOTIONAL CONCEPTS
Perspective Taking And Role Taking Skills
As indicated above, perspective taking requires at least three component skills:
1) The ability to take another person’s point of view,
2) the ability to interpret or understand what another person is likely to be thinking and feeling; and
3) the motivation to use these skills and to care about the feelings of others.
The primary indicators then becomes the presence or absence of these skills. Role playing opportunities can help to determine how effective the child is in utilizing the first two of these steps. The third will require observation of in vivo sitautions.
- This model was developed by Donald Meichenbaum, Lynda Butler, and Linda Gruson in an article called Toward A Conceptual Model Of Social Competence
- Carol A. Kuche and Mark T. Greenberg, the authors of a very effective curriculum called Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies [PATHS] developed these domains.
- Transformation of the Wolf Man, Eleanor Rosch in J. Pickering (ed.) The Authority of Experience: Essays on Buddhism and Psychology Surrey: Curzon Press, 1997