Socio-emotional Development Research Paper Starter

Socio-emotional Development

(Research Starters)

Children's socio-emotional development is central to how well they attach to their primary caregivers, adapt in educational and community settings, and integrate within society. Disruptions in socio-emotional development typically lead to many of the deeply challenging and problematic behaviors that teachers often experience in classrooms. Possessing an understanding of socio-emotional development and related attributes is one of the most crucial factors in determining how students adapt in schools, form peer relationships, and develop self-confidence, relationship skills, self-management, and emotional competencies required for successful participation in group learning (Thompson, 2002).

Keywords Attachment Theory; Behavior; Children; Family Systems Theory; Public Schools; Resilience; Socio-Emotional Development; Teaching Pyramid

Overview

Children's socio-emotional development is central to how well they attach to their primary caregivers, adapt in educational and community settings, and integrate within society. Disruptions in socio-emotional development typically lead to many of the deeply challenging and problematic behaviors that teachers often experience in classrooms. Possessing an understanding of socio-emotional development and related attributes is one of the most crucial factors in determining how students adapt in schools, form peer relationships, and develop self-confidence, relationship skills, self-management, and emotional competencies required for successful participation in group learning (Thompson, 2002).

Socio-emotional competence has been described as “cooperative and pro-social behavior, instigation and continuation of peer friendships and adult relationships, appropriate management of aggression and conflict, development of a sense of mastery and self worth and emotional regulation and reactivity” (Aviles, Anderson, & Davila, 2006, p. 33). Young children between the ages of 0 to 3 depend on their relationships with adults to teach them about themselves and they world in which they live. Thompson and Happold (2002) noted that “child-adult relationships have a more significant impact on a child's learning than educational toys or pre-school curricula” (Aviles, Anderson, & Davila, 2006, p. 33). Parents play an important role in securing an appropriate and healthy environment for their children (NIMH, 2000) and in fostering their socio-emotional development (Dumont & Paquette, 2013; Hurd, Varner & Rowley, 2013). Kingston, Tough & Whitfield (2012) found that maternal distress can lead to poor socio-emotional development in children. Research also suggests that environments that are abusive, difficult and intimidating place young children at risk of impairments in their social-emotional development (Aviles, Anderson, & Davila, 2006, p. 33). Four main potential risk factors that risk a child's socio-emotional competence include:

• Early childhood trauma;

• Family discord and volatility;

• Participation in the child welfare system; and

• Neighborhood peril and inadequate means (Barbarin, 2000).

With the multiple risk factors experienced in today's urban environments, particularly, daily trauma is a risk factor that cannot be avoided.

Family Systems

Central to educator understanding regarding potential risk factors and school difficulties, educational professionals should develop a rudimentary understanding of family systems theory and attachment. Psychologists have reported that many of the roles we play in our families and the attachments that we make are integrally related to how we behave in other environments. Briefly, family systems are characterized by

• Wholeness and order, although this order could be dysfunctional;

• Hierarchical structures, and

• Adaptive self-organization (Cox & Paley, 2003, p. 193).

Sroufe & Waters (1977) described attachment as "an organizational construct that integrated development in the domains of affect, cognition, and behavior during infancy and served as a foundation for social and emotional development during infancy" (as reported in Vaughn, 2005, p. 371).

Contrasted with bonding, the attachment experience is not limited to the first weeks or months of life, but rather it is a gradual and interactive process in the child's responses and feelings toward the child's caregiver (Mercer, 2006, p. 50). While there are multiple aspects of the attachment experience, disrupted attachment occurs when the primary caregiver's relationship to the child is characterized by risk factors (p. 51). Teachers may not understand how or why the child's behaviors are problematic, but many theorists suggest a correlation between disrupted attachment and impaired socio-emotional development that later manifests in a school environment.

These correlations become more obvious as children progress through stages of development (such as those that Piaget described) and they face risk factors impairing appropriate socio-emotional developmental processes. These risk factors can impair socio-emotional development and progress can be deeply impacted. One potential way they could be affected is with difficulties in reading and probable difficulties in writing creatively (Barr, 2001). Unknown by many educators, exposure to early childhood trauma, violence in either the home or community environments, or abuse or neglect directly interferes with a child's socio-emotional development and as a result children may suffer from intellectual, cognitive, and academic impairments (Huth-Bocks, Levendosky, & Semel, 2001). These impairments should be considered as a potential for academic problems, social problems with peers, and other impaired attachment behaviors. Other inappropriate behaviors such as expressing unusual directness, requiring inappropriately close adult proximity, or insecurity might be indicators of complicated attachment relationships (Vaughn, 2005, p. 373). Typically, normal attachment reflects the "operation of a secure base relationship" and directly relates to age-appropriate adaptation (p. 373). Attachment is deeply evocative of how children will behave in school and with other adults.

Applications

Promoting Socio-Emotional Development

The Teaching Pyramid

One method of promoting socio-emotional development is the teaching pyramid. The teaching pyramid is a three-tiered model of classroom strategies that promote socio-emotional development for all children while specifically supporting and addressing the needs of children that are "at-risk for or who have challenging behaviors" (Fox, Dunlap, Hemmeter, Joseph, & Strain, 2003). The model was designed to be implemented by educational professionals with support from mental health professionals and is supported by two primary assumptions:

• That there is a strong relationship between children's socio-emotional development, communication skills, and problematic behavior.

• That in order to address the needs of these problematic behaviors all of the professionals working to alleviate these behaviors need a range of strategies (Hemmeter, Ostrosky, & Fox, 2006, p. 587-88).

Behavioral strategies are aimed at four levels of practice with the first two purposed toward improving relationships and designing supportive environments. These are considered "universal" approaches and benefit everyone. The next two are aimed at teaching social and emotional compensatory strategies with the "targeted" level directed at providing intensive, individualized instruction. Within these constructs, specific characteristics utilized in promotion and prevention practices include:

• Evaluating physical settings where children spend the majority of their time,

• Providing predictable schedules, routines, transitions, activity type, size, length, and expectations,

• Behavioral demands, and

• Teacher behaviors (Hemmeter, Ostrosky, & Fox, 2006, p. 592).

The basic implication attributed to implementing the teaching pyramid is that most problem behaviors exhibited by children are most likely to be found and alleviated by examining and modifying adult responses to problem behaviors (p. 593). In other words, adults must examine their own assumptions and make flexible changes to accommodate the needs of their students. Positive adult relationships with students are central to providing support to students.

Cultural Influences

Another contribution to behavioral integration and modification are the individual and culturally based assumptions and beliefs experienced by adults working with children of specific backgrounds who behave in seemingly inappropriate ways. Professionals may have pre-set notions and assumptions about certain groups and populations. These beliefs may directly affect socio-emotional development expectations. In outlining specific attributes of the teaching pyramid, Vaughn (2006) expressed a high level of importance in constructing collaborative relationships with parents and families in order to promote healthy relationships, foster different perspectives, and offer the possibility of expanding viewpoints. These diverse perspectives were reported as deeply helpful in cultivating dialogue to implement a "multitiered approach to supporting young children's social-emotional competence and decreasing the incidence of challenging behavior" (p. 597). All of these constructs lead to developing...

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