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Children who lack skills in social or academic realms often appear resistant to learning.  They withdraw from challenge and risk, avoiding most what they understand least.  As Mary MacKracken (1981) said in her book City Kid, “when you have failed often and painfully enough, you will try nearly anything to avoid having to try again.” (p. 152).

Each of the treatment models has sophisticated strategies for breaking patterns of failure and futility.  All address the crucial task of addressing social skills.  Sometimes this is highly structured, as in direct instruction using formal curricula of social skills.  In some models the demonstrated problem itself becomes the curriculum for teaching new ways of coping, as in life space interviews, or peer counseling groups.  Instead of communicating, “I don’t want to see any problems” educators and therapists are learning to use naturally occurring incidents as the basis for instruction.  A sampling of promising methods for helping children achieve mastery and social competence follows:

1.  Psychodynamic methods encourage creativity and self-expression in the curriculum to create a sense of mastery.  Art, drama, music and poetry, literature- all can help youth connect with their feelings and surmount their problems.  If problems cannot be eliminated immediately, they should be recast as learning opportunities.  In the life space interview (LSI), real world problems are grist for learning more adaptive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.  Instead of withdrawing from youth in times of crisis, the staff sees this as a unique window of opportunity for teaching coping skills.

2.  Behavioral programs, of course, are grounded in learning theory.  Among the most useful contributions is systematic social skills instruction to develop social competence and teach adaptive skills.  These skills can be as diverse as asking for help and making friends.  Students entering a teaching family program are taught up front how to accept criticism¸ using role-playing and other realistic methods.  Even before their first encounter with an adult, they are being given new coping strategies.  Cognitive behavioral techniques are employed to replace irrational thinking or destructive self-talk with more accurate and adaptive thinking.

3.  Sociological models train youth to assume problem-solving roles.  The treatment group provides feedback about hurtful or inconsiderate behavior of members and encourages positive alternatives.  For example, easily angered youth are taught to understand and disengage from the put-down process¸ thereby inoculating themselves from the negative behavior of others.  Of course, positive groups also foster positive attitudes toward school and teachers.

We recall a substitute teacher who most reluctantly accepted her first assignment to a class of delinquent youth in a peer treatment program.  She was dumfounded when peers solved the first discipline problem of the day instantly with a chorus of “leave the teacher alone, so she can teach!”

4.  Ecological Re-Ed programs assume that competence and intelligence can be taught.  Academic success itself is seen as a powerful therapy.   By helping youth be good at something, especially schoolwork, one impacts a person’s self-worth and motivation.  Students also need opportunities for problem solving in interpersonal relationships in which the display “conspicuous

EDMS 512, Hood

Summer 2006

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