Social, Emotional, and Behavior Development

The development of social, emotional, and behavior competencies and skills is a central feature of school psychology and is pivotal for children to promote academic outcomes and success in life. Child development in the context of interlocking ecological systems is central to understanding and promoting children’s social, emotional, and behavior competencies and skills (Whitcomb & Feuerborn, Chapter 5, this volume). Other important theories and approaches include applied behavior analysis and social learning theory as frameworks for understanding how prosocial and maladaptive behavior patterns develop, as well as the environmental contingencies that can be manipulated to promote social, emotional, and behavior competencies. Indeed, school systems and practices can emphasize the development of social, emotional, and behavior competencies through systems-level initiatives and scoped and sequenced practices such as positive behavioral interventions and supports (Sugai & Horner, 2002) and social-emotional learning programming (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2019). Indeed, through school-based, systems-level approaches, schools can implement systems and practices that are responsive to child development, embed culture, and are grounded in evidence-based practices and a scientific approach to implementation that promotes social, emotional, and behavior development of all children.

Behavior Change

School psychologists work with families, educators, and community stakeholders to improve systems and practices that can promote positive outcomes for children and youth. Central to this focus is an emphasis on changing adult behavior to improve educational, home, and community environments that facilitate child success. In addition, school psychologists work directly with youth to build skills. The emphasis in school psychology on working with others to create positive changes in environments and for individuals requires an understanding of behavior change so that evidence-based practices are adopted, implemented with fidelity, and sustained over time. Behaviorism and the cognitive model provide useful foundational guidance for approaching and organizing a change process, and motivational interviewing operationalizes that foundational guidance in a method of communication that promotes goal-directed action (Smith et al., Chapter 6, this volume). In addition, the theory of planned behavior and the transtheoretical model provide perspectives about how individuals evaluate choices and make decisions, which is useful for school psychologists as they identify facilitators and barriers in the change process, as well as critical points of intervention. Finally, the unified theory of behavior change is an integrative framework useful for promoting behavior change. Behavior change theories are useful for school psychologists in promoting team-based behavior change, as well as for promoting behavior change with individual teachers and family members (Smith et al., Chapter 6). For example, a school psychologist can work with a team to assess the ecological contexts of a school, identify valued outcomes based on local data and priorities, and use motivational interviewing to evoke change talk and provide motivationally oriented responses to guide the team towards change that will result in school reforms.

Health Behavior

Promoting health and health-related outcomes, such as addressing childhood obesity, can have cascading positive impacts on factors such as youth mental health (Russell-Mayhew, McVey, Bardick, & Ireland, 2012). Changing environments, such as considering the impact of screen time and the availability of unhealthy foods, can improve health outcomes for youth. School psychologists can guide families and educators through examining environments and promoting positive health outcomes. Physical activity is one avenue to improve health outcomes, which can also improve youth mental health. Social-ecological theory, self-detennination theory, and positive psychology can be leveraged by school psychologists as they consider environmental and individual factors, as well as the interactions among them, to identify strengths and areas of need, build on strengths and capabilities in environments, and improve generalized behavior change towards healthy behaviors. For example, a focus on self-detennination theory in promoting health outcomes has led to the development of programs that embed motivational interviewing to engage youth and promote action towards change in diet and physical activity (Fedewa et al., Chapter 7, this volume).

Crisis and Trauma

Crisis and trauma can have significant impacts of children, often leading to behavior challenges and emotional distress (Nickerson et al., Chapter 8, this volume). Fortunately, trauma-informed approaches can be embedded in school environments to support children, their families, and educators. Trauma-informed approaches are grounded in multiple theories that guide an understanding of how the crisis and trauma impact children, as well as practices that can be implemented to improve outcomes. For example, a developmental psychopathology model of childhood traumatic stress can help school psychologists understand a child’s reaction to a traumatic event and its intersection with child characteristics and coping (Nickerson et al., Chapter 8). In addition, biological theories describe how trauma influences the brain and cognitive theory clarifies cognitive mechanisms after a trauma. These theories can guide school psychologists towards appropriate assessment and intervention. In addition, the influence of social support and how support is best organized for children following a trauma is an area in need of future research (Nickerson et al., Chapter 8).

 
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