Research has highlighted an increase in challenging behaviours among children in preschool classrooms. The findings includes a high rate of removal from preschool classrooms for behavioural problems; concerns from teachers that too many children arrive at school without the social skills required to learn; and a possible relationship between non-maternal care and aggressive behaviour in preschool (McCabe & Frede, 2007; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2003).

A recent study indicated that equipping children who are at risk of school failure with functional communication and self-control skills through a preschool life skills program has been effective in preventing problem behaviours (Luczynski & Hanley, 2013).  In the study above, the researchers also felt that it was necessary to conduct this program in a small group setting because a previous literature has showed that some children has failed to learn and grasp certain skills through a class-wide preschool life skills program (Hanley, Heal, Tiger & Ingvarsson, 2007; Luczynski & Hanley, 2013).

Luczynski and Hanley (2013) recruited 12 pre-schoolers at risk of school failure and split them into test and control groups. All the children were engaged in a variety of craft, manipulative and fine motor activities in their small group for almost everyday of the week. During sessions of small group activity for the test group only, the teachers would arrange for evocative situations to teach each skill. Evocative situations in this study refer to scenarios where teachers are busy attending to other children or when children only have limited access to craft materials during small group activities. During these scenarios, children may display socially acceptable behaviours such as asking the teachers for assistance or materials and waiting patiently after requesting, in contrast they may display problem behaviours such as hitting or yelling to get attention and request for materials.  The social skills of this program were taught in a progressive manner with a new skill building on what was previously taught. The social skills emphasised are 1) the ability to request for attention, 2) vocal framed requests for materials or assistance and 3) delay and denial tolerance (the ability to wait patiently after requesting for assistance and the ability to manage refusal). Apart from using instructions, modelling and role-playing, teachers also employ differential reinforcement teach the children the targeted skills. Differential reinforcement is a unique application of reinforcement where the intention is to decrease the occurrence of interfering behaviours by providing reinforcement for desired behaviours, while inappropriate behaviours are ignored (Bogin & Sulivan, 2009). In relation to this study, the experimenter would provide descriptive praise (E.g. Good job, I love the way you shared your stationeries with your friend just now.) when a child is able to produce an appropriate skill during the sessions with the aim of increasing the probability of appropriate social skills from occurring instead of problem behaviour.

On measures of acquiring and maintaining the targeted skills, the children in the test group showed statistically significant decrease in problem behaviour when compared to the control group. Every child in the test group was able to demonstrate all target skills in over 80% of the opportunities after teaching and 5 of 6 children managed to demonstrate all skills in over 80% of the opportunities during the maintenance period (Luczynski & Hanley, 2013).

The researchers felt that these positive results were most likely due to the arranged evocative situations in which problem behaviour was expected to occur and making use of those situations to teach appropriate skills that likely serve the same function as problem behaviour (Luczynski & Hanley, 2013).


Bogin, J., & Sullivan, L. (2009). Overview of differential reinforcement of other behaviors. Sacramento, CA: The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, M.I.N.D. Institute,  University of California at Davis School of Medicine.

Hanley, G. P., Heal, N. A., Tiger, J. H., & Ingvarsson, E. T. (2007). Evaluation of a classwide teaching program for developing preschool life skills. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40(2), 277-300.
doi: 10.1901/jaba.2007.57-06

Luczynski, K. C., & Hanley, G. P. (2013) Prevention of problem behaviour by teaching functional communication and self-control skills to preschoolers. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 46(2), 355-
368. doi: 10.1002/jaba.44

McCabe, L. A., & Frede, E. C. (2007). Challenging behaviours and the role of preschool education. Retrieved

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2003). Does amount of time spent in childcare predict socioemotional adjustment during the transition to kindergarten? Child Development, 74(4), 976-1005. Retrieved from