Child development research center reviews 38 after-school social skills programs

iStock_000012608964XSmallAs many educators know, a child’s social skills are as important as intellectual skills in determining his or her success in school and later on in life.

Many schools informally teach children social skills in the classroom.  Others adopt more formal and structured programs to teach skills such as getting along with others, expressing empathy, resolving conflicts and regulating emotions and behaviors.

To help schools that are unwilling to devote the already packed school day to developing social skills and to help those schools seeking to supplement current efforts,  Child Trends reviewed  38 rigorously evaluated social skills programs for children and adolescents that operate out of school time.

Of the reviewed programs, 6 are community-based and 32 are school-based. The programs were drawn from Child Trends’ database of 500 evaluations of out-of-school-time programs called LINKS (Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully). Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at all stages of development.

“Overall, most (27 out of 38) of the program interventions that targeted positive social skills or measured impacts on social skills worked; that is, they significantly increased at least one social skill in children or adolescents,” write the researchers.

Based on the research evaluations, Child Trends placed  the programs in 3 categories:  “proven to work”, “mixed reviews” and “not proven to work”.

The 24 programs that were “proven to work” showed positive outcomes that persisted at 1-year follow-up. The 10 programs in the “mixed reviews” category showed some benefit, but either the positive outcomes didn’t persist at 1-year follow-up or they were only found to benefit 1 group, such as boys not girls, for example.  The 4 programs that were classified as “not proven to work” had statistically non-significant or marginally significant impacts on social skills.  ‘

Found to be most consistently successful were programs that teach problem-solving skills, according to the Child Trends review. Students who participated in all 6 programs that focused on problem-solving skills had positive outcomes that persisted at one-year follow-up.

Multiple skills programs effective

Programs that target multiple skills (for example, self-regulation skills, problem solving skills, and conflict resolution skills) were also found to be effective.  Seven of 8 of the programs targeting multiple skills were among the 24 in the “proven to work” category.

The duration of the effective programs varied widely and so did the instructional techniques ,which included cognitive behavioral interventions, lecture-based programs, computer-based programs, etc., according to the Child Trends review.

Researchers report that parent involvement was often effective in programs targeted for elementary schoolchildren just as involving peers was often effective in programs targeted for middle school students and adolescents.

“The results from this Fact Sheet suggest, in general, that intervention programs that target social skills have positive impacts.  More importantly, our findings suggest that a variety of strategies and practices can be used to promote social skills,” the researchers write.

“What Works for Promoting Positive Behavior and Enhancing Positive Social Skills: Lessons from Experimental  Evaluations of Programs and Interventions,” by Tawana Bandy and Kristin Moore, Child Trends, Publication #2011-07, March 2011.

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