Temper tantrums, biting, and fighting – an inevitable part of early childhood? Not necessarily. Challenging behaviors such as these can be effectively addressed and prevented through an approach that involves families, caregivers, mental health professionals, and early childhood professionals.
Three Alaska communities have demonstration sites for the Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children (TACSEI) to promote healthy social development as well as prevent and address challenging behaviors in young children.
The Alaska TACSEI programs in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Dillingham have grants from the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services Infant Learning Program. Alaska is one of only four states chosen as part of a five-year national project to improve outcomes for children and families.
At the demonstration sites, child care providers, parents, and early childhood professionals are trained and coached in a pyramid model of healthy social and emotional development. Challenging behaviors are not necessarily inevitable. Adults in a child’s life can foster healthy, positive social and emotional behaviors by understanding what all children need – such as routines and structure – and the specific needs of individual children.
The Fairbanks Native Association (FNA) Early Head Start first received training in the pyramid principles of social and emotional development about five years ago, according to Director Angela Foster-Snow.
“We talk a lot about relationship-based practice, but when you actually apply the pyramid model, it’s getting to know the kids and their individual needs and how those needs can be addressed within a healthy environment through strength-based relationships,” Foster-Snow said.
“For example, in a typical zero to three environment like ours, you’ll have biting or hitting. In most programs, they address that behavior. We address the behavior but we don’t stop there. We determine why that behavior is happening – it might be an accumulation of family stresses. If we can address the family’s needs, we will have greater success,” she said.
Why does it matter? Myriad studies show that young children with persistent challenging behaviors are at great risk of failing in school and leading adult lives characterized by violence, abuse, loneliness, and anxiety. Early-appearing behavior problems in preschool are a strong predictor of delinquency in adolescence, gang membership, and adult incarceration. Now Alaska has some tools to break the cycle.