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The Teaching Pyramid
A Model for Supporting Social Competence and Preventing Challenging Behavior in Young Children
Lise Fox, Glen Dunlap, Mary Louise Hemmeter, Gail E. Joseph, and Phillip S. Strain
Lise Fox, Ph.D., is a research professor with Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She conducts research and training and develops support programs focused on young children with challenging behavior. Glen Dunlap, Ph.D., is a professor of child and family studies and director of the Division of Applied Research and Educational Support at the Florida Mental Health Institute. Mary Louise Hemmeter, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois in UrbanaChampaign and the principal investigator of a five-year project to enhance the capacity of Head Start and child care providers to address the social and emotional needs of young children. Gail E. Joseph, Ph.D., assistant research professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, has been engaged in several national projects focused on professionals working with children with challenging behaviors. Phillip S. Strain, Ph.D., professor in educational psychology at the University of Colorado at Denver, has designed comprehensive early intervention programs for children with autism or severe problem behaviors. Development of this article was supported by the Center for EvidenceBased Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior (Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, Cooperative Agreement #H324Z010001) and the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Cooperative Agreement #90YD0119/01).
any early educators report feeling ill equipped to meet the needs of children with challenging behavior and frustrated in their attempts to develop safe and nurturing classroom environments. These teachers spend much of their time addressing the behaviors of a few children, leaving little time to support the development and learning of the other children. Increasing evidence suggests that an effective approach to addressing problem behavior is the adoption of a model that focuses on promoting social-emotional development, providing support for children’s appropriate behavior, and preventing challenging behavior (Sugai et al. 2000). In this article we describe a framework for addressing the social and emotional development and challenging behavior of young children. This pyramid framework includes four levels of practice to address the needs of all children, including children with persistent challenging behavior (see “Teaching Pyramid”). The following example demonstrates how to implement this model in a preschool classroom. Emma, a preschool teacher of two- and three-yearolds, takes time to greet every child and parent on arrival. She talks to the child briefly about the upcoming day or events at home. Emma is committed to building a nurturing and supportive relationship with every child in her class [Level 1]. The classroom is carefully arranged to promote chil-dren’s engagement and social interaction. When children have difficulty, Emma first examines the environment to make sure that the
Young Children • July 2003
anger and impulse control. confidence. encourage children’s engagement in daily activities and Although most of the children are doing quite well in prevent or decrease the likelihood of challenging her classroom. creatindividualized behavior support plan that ing well-organized learning centers. Joseph & Strain in press). gins working with the family to develop an interventions by providing children with choices. A teacher who meet the needs of one child who often screams and examines the impact of the environment may hits the other children.complex feeling required to implement more elaborate and timewords directly consuming strategies. and they seek out ways ness. priate behavior.tionships are key to effective teaching and guidance in Good rela- Using social and Positive relationships with children. and behavioral developto identify feelings ment. As such. of feeling words. supportive A model for supporting social competence and explicit instruction to enrelationships between preventing challenging behavior in young children sure they develop competeachers and children tence in emotional literacy. Children pay particular attention to what tices. through pairing Building positive relationships problems are not due to Implementing classroom preventive practices classroom arrangement or The critical importance of the classroom environthe structure of an activity ment. their potential influence on children’s behavior room preventive pracDiscriminating grows significantly—that is. ings in appropriate First. ment. as adults build positive relationships with chileducators use classways. coping with anger and disappointclassroom preventive practices. schedule. in the context of supportive relationships. there are two reasons why early in self and others childhood educators need to invest time and attention any early childhood and act upon feelin getting to know children. the time spent building a to support developbe taught new and strong relationship is probably less than the time ment and use of appro. Emma uses support development and use of appropriate behavior. quires a vocabulary children develop positive self-concept. They use playing with peers. including specific social. and materials may that this helps those children make progress [Level 3]. With the help of the direcIntensive make simple changes that reduce the fretor. teaching strategies number of children in learning centers. teaching them about routeaching specific social tines and expectations. elimiSocial and emotional can be implemented at home and in the nating wide-open spaces. Key emotional literacy skills Good relationships are key to effective teaching and include being able guidance in social. and making changes in the skills. emotional. frustration. to and behavioral problem solving. and friendship skills (Bredekamp & Copple 1997. is well estab[Level 2]. (Webster-Stratton 1999). and so on). to ensure even more positive attention from the teacher. and using social adult-child interactions and classroom design. as well as with families and other professionals interpersonal problem solving. a curriculum that includes The combination of giving children positive attention development. dren. including such as anger. sadsuch a teacher says and does. and she is confident physical environment. and . Simply put. and colleagues emotional teaching effective early educastrategies tion program must be The Teaching Pyramid Many children need positive. emotional. lished in early education (Dodge & Colker 2002). strategies and activities for for their prosocial behavior. Emma worries about her ability to behavior (Strain & Hemmeter 1997). including adult-child interaction. a sense of safety that help reduce the occurrence of Young children can challenging behavior. Emma contacts the child’s home and beindividualized quency of challenging behavior (for example. Many A few children in the class early childhood educators are aware of the relationship seem to need instruction on of classroom design to challenging behavior. and happiness reSecond. among emotions caring adults. The foundation of an families. limiting the classroom [Level 4]. children notice responsive. Classroom preventive practices M specific adult-child interactions and classroom design Young Children • July 2003 .
and then evaluating how effective has a turn. the solution was. children • Listen to a child’s ideas and stories and be an appreciative will match feeling words with their audience. tions of others. card that matches the emotion named by • Greet every child at the door by name. Playing games provides practice. directions. peers. individualization. requires careful planning. Planning intensive individualized interventions Even when teachers establish positive relationships. ey emotional • Let the children make personal “All about effective teaching in this domain literacy skills inMe” books. • Give hugs. Children also learn • Have a conversation over snack. Controlling anger and impulse includes • Offer praise and encouragement. giving compliments. • Call aside a child who has had a bad day and say. Make sure everyone tion. implement classroom preventive practices. child. participating in dramatic play with • Ride the bus with a child. and give them an oppordown instead of acting out. and read it to the whole class. research has demonstrated that positive behavior Young Children • July 2003 . acting on a soluand gets to share them during circle time. I know tomorrow is going to be better!” • Tell children how much they were missed when they are absent for a day of school. generating multiple alternative solutions. and it around. Friendship skills in• Acknowledge children’s efforts. helping their friends. evaluating the conse• Have a Star of the Week who brings in special things from home quences of solutions. being able to recognize anger. “I’m sorry we had a bad day today. the picture of an emotion on a bingo • Have families complete interest surveys about their child. • Learn some of the key phrases in each child’s home language. following the child’s lead. under• Share information about yourself. As in all areas of instruction. Problem tunity to share them with you and their peers. problem exists. clude sharing and turn taking. as in Feeling Face Bingo. and a thumbs-up for accomplishing tasks. a few children are likely to continue to display challenging behavior. • Go to an extracurricular activity with the Practical Strategies for Building Positive Relationships K identify feelings and act upon feelings in appropriate ways. in which children find • Play. and use strategies to calm • Ask children to bring in family photos. and • In front of a child. In the last decade. and use explicit teaching strategies. making • Give compliments liberally. throughout the day. requesting and receiving help. physiological sensations and the emo• Send home positive notes. provision of many • Write on a T-shirt all the special things clude being able to and diverse learning opportuniabout a given child and let him or her wear ties throughout the day. call the family to say what a great day she or dealing effectively with common he is having. lem solving. suggestions in play. and sharing.Behaviors That Challenge Children and Adults pictures of emotional expressions with the feeling word and reading children’s literature featuring feeling words. peer problems such as teasing or • Find out what a child’s favorite book is bullying. are engaged in socially competent • Play outside with a child on the playbehavior such as following ground equipment. when family and teachers label the children’s emotions as well as their own • Conduct home visits several times a year. and share them at circle time. attention to children when they in self and others • Play a game with a child. • Hold a child’s hand. Over time. the game leader. solving includes recognizing when a • Post children’s work at their eye level. and find something in comstand that anger can interfere with probmon with the child. high-fives.
Young Children • July 2003 . The key implication here is that most solutions to challenging behaviors are likely to be found by examining adult behavior and overall classroom practice. It offers a method for identifying the environmental events. When the three lower levels of the pyramid are in place.. ed. and analyzing the collected information) to identify the factors related to the child’s challenging behavior. See Permissions and Reprints online at www. A. PBS is based on research and humanistic values. child. Rev. Hemmeter. G. Young Exceptional Children 1 (1): 2–9. The creative curriculum. M. London: Paul Chapman. Dunlap. early education. R.naeyc. Washington. 1999. 2002.support (PBS) is a highly effective intervention approach for addressing severe and persistent challenging behavior. eds. & M.E. T.. G. 2000.S. Colker. Liaupsin. & L. Nelson. 2000).. 2002. DC: Teaching Strategies. Early intervention. References Bredekamp. A few children may need a well-planned. Cushing. only about four percent of the children in a classroom or program will require more intensive support (Sugai et al. W. B.R. & P.H. T. Scott. L.P. Joseph. and intensive approach to learning emotional literacy. and friendship skills. Washington. P. Dunlap. the child’s family. Ruef. enhance relationships with peers and adults. Sugai. Hieneman. Turnbull III. To support other children’s meaningful participation in daily routines and activities. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders 10 (3): 149–57.J. As an approach for addressing a child’s problem behavior. Webster-Stratton. Once established. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions 2 (3): 131–43. Wickham. Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs. Wilcox. Copyright © 2003 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Implementing successive levels solves more of the social and behavioral problems experienced in classroom settings. Sailor. and community environments. and transition to school. teachers may need to put in place classroom preventive practices involving more structure and feedback. & C. S.T. and other professionals who may be supporting the teacher. Providing a warm and responsive environment in which teachers work hard to build positive relationships with all children can prevent many problem behaviors and provides the foundation for the next levels of the pyramid (see the model “Teaching Pyramid”). H. & M. Lewis. and interactions that trigger problem behavior.L. Horner. not by singling out individual children for specialized intervention. interpersonal problem solving. The team includes classroom staff.. reviewing the child’s records. and experience an improved quality of life. 1997. D. Copple.M. & Cushing 2002). Strain. circumstances. P addressing severe and persistent challenging behavior. 5th ed. mental health consultant or social worker). and the development of support strategies for preventing problem behavior and teaching new skills (Fox. C. Strain. DC: NAEYC. positive behavior support. the purpose of problem behavior. 1997. Fox.S. This is good news for teachers who are eager to provide all children with a high-quality early education experience. G. techniques for teaching new skills. Dodge. and changes in responses to the challenging behavior. ositive behavior The team implements the plan at support (PBS) is a home and in the highly effective classroom and monitors changes in the intervention approblem behavior proach for and the development of social skills and other child outcomes. Young Exceptional Children. Dunlap. C. Building positive relationships with young children. Applying positive behavioral support and functional behavioral assessment in schools. or family (for example. Intensive individualized interventions are planned and implemented by a team for application in home. D. controlling anger and impulse. The functional assessment leads to the development of a behavior support plan that includes prevention strategies. Keys to being successful when confronted with challenging behavior. C. Turnbull. A systemic approach The teaching pyramid represents a hierarchy of strategies.org/resources/journal. How to promote children’s social and emotional competence. The focus of PBS is to help the child develop new social and communication skills. focused. G. the team completes a functional assessment (a process of observing the child in key situations.. interviewing caregivers and teachers.. & L. In press.
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