Mentors Make the Difference
Traditionally, these kids were labeled "bad" and spent plenty of time in the corner with their faces to the wall.
A research/intervention project, being conducted by the Institute for the Study of Child Development at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Medical School, is showing that one way to help overly aggressive, easily frustrated children is to provide them with a mentor. Known as the Early Start Mentoring Program, the research is being overseen by Candice Feiring, PhD, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the school, and Gianine Rosenblum, PhD, program coordinator.
Participants are 5- to 8-year-olds enrolled in Newark schools and child care centers, who are ranked by their teachers as being above the 90th percentile in aggressiveness and below the 10th percentile in frustration tolerance. About 200 kids have gone through the program so far; right now, 40 are enrolled.
Students from UMDNJ and other nearby colleges and universities - Rutgers, NJIT, Kean, Bloomfield and Essex County College - are recruited to be mentors. Currently, the majority are from UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School. After training, they meet with their charges, one-on-one, approximately three times a month throughout the academic year. The pairs interact while enjoying activities that help develop social and coping skills, like art projects and social problem-solving games.
The program has been in existence for six years. To date, findings indicate that 58 percent of the kids show a decrease in aggressive behavior and an improvement in social skills; 56 percent become frustrated and angry less quickly.
"These children are learning to solve problems without fighting," says Feiring. "It teaches them at a young age that there are alternatives to violence."
Efforts are now underway to replicate the project in Middlesex County and to combine it with another program known as Social Problem Solving (SPS). The Violence Institute of New Jersey is providing funding.
The SPS program, under the direction of John Clabby, PhD, chief psychologist at University Behavioral HealthCare, helps children develop the skills to cope with everyday conflicts, decisions and pressures. The lessons are reinforced through role playing, and parents and teachers learn how to augment what the kids learn.
"By merging the two programs, the overly aggressive children will have the benefit of working with their mentors, while being surrounded by other students who are learning positive ways to handle frustration," says Feiring. "It's a winning collaboration."
Spring - Summer 1998 Table of Contents