This paper will attempt to define some of the parameters regarding the identification of children with problems in the capacity to associate with other human beings in ways that are mutually satisfying. The failure to adjust socially may require a social education strategy to teach social skills or to restructure attitudes and beliefs that inhibit social adjustment.
• Early Intervention
• Pre-school Day Care
• Head Start
• First Grade
Parents, teachers and other adults who relate to children seem to have a capacity to quickly identify children with social adjustment problems; they stand out like “sore thumbs”. Thus the County can and should seek to identify these “sore thumbs” at the earliest point possible. Caution should be added that placing labels on such children is not helpful. However, certain preventative interventions can be implemented which might be helpful. Since these interventions could be helpful to all children, it is not necessary in all cases to “single out” the sore thumbs.
The first intervention should always be with the parents. We know that methods of family management fall into more or less predictable categories:
• authoritarian [high control]
• authoritative [based on knowledge and providing direction]
• permissive [low control]
• some combination of the above.
Of these we are aware that the last is the most problematic as it frustrates the internal logic of the child and potentially leads to frustration, anger or learned helplessness. The most effective is thought to be the authoritative, where the parent provides benign direction.
Some interventions which provides aid to the parents in providing specific help and direction to the child include:
• Prosocial Culture Building: developing a Stop & Think model in the home.
• Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving: a more formal intervention that has been done effectively with four year olds and their mothers.
Both of these actions can be provided by the teacher or aide as well and are highly recommended as whole school cultural approaches in the case of Prosocial and individual or class activities in the case of ICPS.
All transitions are problematic and when the child either first enters a group care program as listed above or formally enters school, associational skills are put to the test. Observant participants can begin to note what “triggers” the difficulty and what emotions are apparent. For example: separation may be the trigger that might invoke anger, fear, or sadness. It is important to note that emotions delineate value; what is important to me, I have feelings about. The third factor, which may be the most important in regard to association is how the child ‘handles’ the emotion – how they behave.
Again effective intervention might start with the parents. Understanding that the parent may herself have fear about separation might help to deal with the child’s fear. On the other hand, mother may be prepared to separate and prepares the child with active rejection and punishment. These tactics may increase the anger of a child who feels unready to separate. Helping the parent learn the skills to effectively separate can have a major positive impact upon the child.
Additionally, the negative impact can be softened by working with the teacher and the peers. Peer affectional systems are often undervalued as a means of learning social competence. While peers can be brutally negative, they can also be quite supportive. Socialization becomes a process of accommodation and the child who is not able to develop peer relationships is isolated from a plethora of social skill learning.
Probably the most pervading and important of all the affectional system in terms of long-range personal-social adjustment is the age-mate or peer system. This system develops through the transient social interactions among babies, crystallizes with the formation of social relationships among children and then progressively expands during childhood, preadolescence, adolescence and adulthood. The peer affectional system begins at about three years old and peaks between the ages of nine and eleven, waning with the onset of adolescence, when peer relations become entangled with heterosexual affection. Developmentally and functionally, it progresses according to a definite maturational pattern. Play with inanimate objects precedes play with animate objects, sot that pre social play by definition precedes social play of comparable complexity.
When peer acceptance is not given or circumstances prevent participation, developmental interventions as found in the Prepare Curriculum of Goldstein become appropriate. These skill classes should be targeted towards specific skills that peers indicate are lacking. While most children learn these skills in vivo, teachers should not allow children who are isolated from peer teaching to go without.
Schools must recognize an important transitional mechanism in the mutual acceptance of physical or bodily contact with members of the same species. Play in all its complex form is impossible if bodily contact is looked upon as undesirable or loathsome.
One must recognize that the personal and cultural habits of individual children may match well or poorly with the environment of the school. When the fit is not good, the school, not the child, should be responsible for bridging the gap. Again, contact with the parents may help to define the issues. Valentine has defined some of these issues very well. When the school understands the issues and the parents agree to provide supports for a limited number of family changes because they recognize that the consequences of family preference could limit the child’s ability to succeed; the school must build on these agreements and make the student/family full partners in the process of social education.
School is replete with transitions. However, four have special significance. The movement from elementary to middle school and the movement from middle school require significant preparation. Since almost all children make these “rites of passage”, the school can make special effort to prepare the children for change. The other two, however are much more difficult as they identify the child as atypical. The first is failure. A child who is deprived of his peer group has essentially been deprived of an afectional system. Harlow  defines three major forms of social play – free play, creative play and formal play. Physical free play is the easiest for the child and the most disturbing for the parent. This free form plays a predominant role in the socialization process, for it is here that the social ordering and even social roles develop, that the rules of social intercourse are shaped, and eventually, that the control of immediate demand and aggression is established [Harlow, 1974].
Ethnologists report that especially human components of free play include jumping up and down, open-handed lashing, laughing, and making mischievous faces. It is suggested that these are human fixed-action-patterns evoked by social stimulation. Rough and tumble free play are reported as early as eighteen months and last until about five years old at which point primitive free play develops rather sharply into formalized games such as tag, cops and robbers, in which the same motor patterns apply but rules and verbal explanations have been added [Jones, 1967]. Children with fewer language and logic skills are likely to find this transition in itself, difficult.
Just as the child is working through these socialization events, his/her peer group changes with two new factors added. First, the child is probably larger than the new peer group and second; the child is labeled by peers as “dumb”. These factors added to the potential that the new peer group is a coherent group, meaning that the sense of belonging is strong and that new members are therefore alien, and without considerable resources, rejected, such retention in grade has considerable social impact. When the new child enters into physical free play they may add to the problems because, being a year older and larger, they hurt the new peers with the same activities that were seen by the old peers as physical free play.
Again, the first line of defense against maladjustment should be with the family. The family needs to understand the social impact of this event and learn how to effectively intervene to modify the potential negative. Similarly activities with the teacher and the new peer group can help to pave the way for reinstatement into social play.
The fourth transition can be even more traumatic. It is the determination that the child is exceptional – i.e. eligible for special education. Not only is the label not helpful, but the entire nature of the peer group changes. In addition, the attitudes of teachers change. Now the emphasis is on protection and restriction. Social play may not even be encouraged.
The very nature of the special education transition implies that there is a line between regular and exceptional students; and those below a certain point are exceptional. Factually, of course, we all recognize that all children are on a continuum in a variety of orders [defined by Howard Gardner as language, self conceptualization, understanding of others, spatial relations, kinetic/tactile, musical and logical mathematical.]. It will be quickly noted that schools define intelligence almost exclusively on a language and logical/mathematical basis.
A child who is highly skilled in kinetic/tactile skills and has a firm feel and control of self; small motor skills, eye-hand coordination and large motor skills, but is less skilled in language and/or logical/mathematical skills is not only likely to be placed in special education, his/her kinetic skills may be seen as a problem since in “roughhouse” free play activities [which parents and teachers frown on] they continually demonstrate superiority. Peers may also shy away from them since the “roughhouse” becomes too rough for them to effectively compete.
The “dumb” student in either of the last two transitions who happens also to be kinetically skilled is likely to find continued problems in living, unless a social education is provided. Such transitions would occur more naturally within a natural setting. Animals do separate from certain peers, but this is a judgement made by the peer group itself, not imposed by a structure of teachers. Helping such a child identify their thoughts about self, others and future prospects and to find more effective beliefs which support social association and gain positive reinforcement is a vital part of helping the child achieve success as an adult.
The transition into the artificially designed middle and upper schools also requires some consideration.