• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Tuesday 29th July, 2014

KITS before kindergarten helps kids with development and behavior problems

strong>Preschoolers with developmental disabilities and behavioral difficulties may find it especially hard to adjust to kindergarten and school. Kids in Transition (KITS), an innovative program for families, has been helping children to control their emotions and behaviors while improving their attentiveness in class.Researchers at the Oregon Social Learning Center and University of Oregon devised their intervention knowing that if children make a successful move into school life it can have a lasting, educational and social impact. By contrast, those children who combine a developmental disability with behavioral difficulties are at high risk for academic and social problems, and make greater use of special education services.A lack of self-regulation skills – the ability to control emotions, behaviors and cognitive process such as attention – have been acknowledged as an important reason why such children find it hard to adapt to school. But the Oregon researchers also anticipated that children’s challenging behavior would be compounded by less effective discipline by parents at home and, potentially, less parental involvement in their schooling.Summer startKids In Transition to School (KITS) is an intensive school readiness intervention to increase early literacy, social and self-regulation skills and positive parenting skills. Starting in the two summer months before children start schooling, it continues into the first two months of kindergarten.It originally achieved positive results with children in foster care: a group at high risk for school failure that includes a high proportion with developmental disabilities. Children’s self-regulation skills were found to improve during the program and their behavior after their kindergarten year was less disruptive than among a control group.For their study of children with developmental disabilities and behavior difficulties, the researchers recruited 209 families of five-year olds in four annual cohorts who were randomly allocated to take part in KITS or a control group receiving “services as usual”. The summer “school readiness” phase for groups of 12 to 15 children was structured like a kindergarten class and took place in 16 two-hourly sessions held twice a week. The eight-week “transition/maintenance” phase in kindergarten consisted of one two-hour session per week. Children were taught by a trained, graduate teacher with two assistants using a curriculum that included letter names, comprehension, social interaction, social problem solving, how to handle disappointment and how to follow multi-step directions. A trained facilitator and an assistant led the KITS group for parents and caregivers, consisting of eight sessions, held every two weeks. In addition to consistent behavior management and other parenting skills, the program focused on ways of helping children to develop their early literacy skills, routines around school activities and communicating and getting involved with the school. Better behaviorResults from the trial showed that the program had a positive impact on children’s ability to regulate their emotions and behavior – although the significant improvement, compared with the control group, only emerged at the end of their kindergarten year, not the start. An explanation for this might be that it needed more than two months for the good effects of the children’s preparation course to be felt. However, another possibility was that it took time before the positive changes in parenting promoted by the program became embedded and influenced children’s behavior for the better.Questionnaire assessments suggested course had significantly reduced levels of ineffective and inconsistent parenting by the time children started kindergarten. Yet more encouragement came from the discovery that this finding was associated with higher levels of parent involvement by the end of the kindergarten year. The Oregon team note that since KITS was tested with children who had both behavioral difficulties and developmental disabilities, the findings cannot necessarily be generalized to young children with one or other of those problems. The assessment of parenting skills might also have been improved by including independent observation measurements. Even so, the research shows how an intensive, targeted, but relatively short-term intervention has the potential to improve the school experiences and outcomes of otherwise high-risk children. Another message for school service planners concerns timing: while special education once children begin school can improve emotional regulation and help improve behavior, early intervention involving parents could be better.*********Reference: Pears, K. C., Kim, H. K., Healey, C. V., Yoerger, K., & Fisher, P, A. (2014). Improving Child Self-Regulation and Parenting in Families of Pre-kindergarten Children with Developmental Disabilities and Behavioral Difficulties, Prevention Science, doi: 10.1007/s11121-014-0482-2.

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