Teaching Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Self-Management Skills to All Students:  The Cognitive-Behavioral Science Underlying the Success of The Stop & Think Social Skills Program

November 18, 2017  


Teaching Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Self-Management Skills to All Students:  The Cognitive-Behavioral Science Underlying the Success of The Stop & Think Social Skills Program


An Evidence-based Alternative to the Unsubstantiated Approaches to Mindfulness [Part II of III]



[CLICK HERE for the Full Version of this Blog]


Dear Colleagues,


Introduction:  Mindfulness (and Part I of this Series) Revisited


   In Part I of this three-part series, we discussed the past and current research, efficacy, and realities of Mindfulness programs in schools across the country, and the $1.1 billion industry-fed “bandwagon” that many districts have “jumped on” over the past few years.




   Initially, Part I described two recent Scientific American articles that were published just last month:


“Where’s the Proof that Mindfulness Meditation Works?”



_ _ _ _ _


“Mindfulness Training for Teens Fails Important Test”



_ _ _ _ _


   The first article reviewed some of the past research with Mindfulness programs, and cited 15 prominent psychologists and cognitive scientists who cautioned that “despite its popularity and supposed benefits, scientific data on mindfulness is woefully lacking. Many of the studies on mindfulness and meditation are poorly designed- - compromised by inconsistent definitions of what mindfulness actually is, and often void of a control group to rule out the placebo effect.”

_ _ _ _ _


   The second article noted that- - with most of the Mindfulness research focused on adults with clinically-significant mental health problems- - once again, “the adult literature on mindfulness identifies a number of weaknesses in the extant research, including a lack of randomized control groups, small sample sizes, large attrition rates, and inconsistent definitions of mindfulness.”


   This article went on to describe a large-scale study with 308 middle and high school students who were randomly assigned to a Mindfulness training or Control group (published in Behavior Research and Therapy in 2016) where:


“. . . there was no evidence of any benefit for the mindfulness group at either the immediate post-test or the follow up. In fact, anxiety was higher at the follow up for males in the mindfulness group relative to males in the control group. The same was true for participants with low baseline depression and low baseline weight concerns; mindfulness training led to an increase in anxiety in these individuals over time.”

_ _ _ _ _


   Toward the end of Part I, the research supporting the use of social skills training and cognitive-behavioral approaches in schools was discussed.  This section concluded:


   Indeed, if the primary goal of a Mindfulness program is to help students to be more aware and in control of their emotions, thoughts, and behavior, why would we not focus on the same goals- - but use a research-based approach that has a 30-year track record of success?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


Introducing Part II of this Series:  Defining Student Self-Management


   In this second part of this three-part series, we will use the evidence-based Stop & Think Social Skills Program as an exemplar of a social skills approach to teaching students social, emotional, and behavioral self-management.


   In doing this, we will detail half (Principles 1 through 4) of the scientific foundations of a sound social skills program- - using the Stop & Think Program to provide examples of how that science is translated into practice.  These Principles are important- - especially when used to identify the science-to-practice gaps that might be undermining the success of other social skills programs.


   In Part III, we will discuss the other half of these Principles, and describe the typical outcomes of the Stop & Think Social Skills Program in thousands of schools across the country.

_ _ _ _ _


   But before beginning, it is crucial to first define self-management:


   Significantly, students’ social, emotional, and behavioral competence and self-management skills mature and become more sophisticated as students get older- - largely due to genetic, biological, cognitive-developmental, environmental, and experiential factors.


   Nonetheless, the synthesis of competence and self-management are collectively defined as a child or adolescent’s ability:


   * To be socially, emotionally, and behaviorally aware of themselves and others;


   * To effectively control their emotions, as well as their thoughts, beliefs, expectations, and attributions; and


   * To demonstrate successful interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills.



   On a social level, children and adolescents need to progressively learn the self-management skills that contribute to effective: (a) listening, engagement, and responding; (b) communication and collaboration; (c) social problem-solving and group interactions; and (d) (once again) conflict prevention and resolution. 


   On an emotional level, they need to learn the self-management skills that result in: (a) the awareness of their own and others’ feelings; (b) the ability to manage or control their feelings and emotions; (c) the ability to cope with the emotional effects of current situations; and (d) the ability to demonstrate appropriate behavior even under conditions of emotionality. 


   Finally and additionally, on a behavioral level, children and adolescents need to learn the self-management skills that help them to be actively engaged in and responsible for their own learning (individually, and in small and large groups), and to demonstrate appropriate behavior in the classroom and across the common areas of the school.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


The Stop & Think Social Skills Program


   As noted throughout this series, when students are explicitly taught, and they learn, master, and apply needed interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional control and coping skills, they actually accomplish the intended goals and outcomes expected by those who are attracted to the unproven Mindfulness approaches. 


   This instruction, however, needs to be done in developmentally sensitive ways for all students from preschool through high school.


   While there are a small number of well-researched and effective social, emotional, and behavioral skills programs and curricula, there are literally hundreds that are hawked and marketed- - and that have not independently and objectively demonstrated their sustained efficacy across time, settings, student age and developmental conditions, and implementation situations. 


   And so, in order to evaluate the programs that are “on the market,” educators need to begin with programs that have been identified as evidence-based, and that are listed on one or more of the federally-designated behavioral or mental health registries.


   Critically. . . by definition: 


   Evidenced-based programs have had their implementation data and results independently evaluated by national experts in the field who have objectively determined that the program is responsible for the student outcomes that the programs respectively proclaim. 


   One such registry is the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

_ _ _ _ _


Describing the Stop & Think Program 


   The Stop & Think Social Skills Program consists of a series of separate, but linked, manuals written at the preschool to Grade 1, Grades 2 to 3, Grades 4 to 5, and Grades 6 to 8 levels.  The manuals are organized for the grade levels above to ensure that the program is taught in age-appropriate and developmentally-sensitive ways.  The manuals are also written for classroom teachers, as students learn these skills best when they are embedded in a classroom’s behavior management system, and when they are taught, used, and reinforced- - over time, situations, and circumstances- - by students’ classroom teachers.


   While most-often used as a primary prevention (Tier I) curriculum, the Program has been implemented strategically in pull-out (Tier II) counseling and therapy groups, in day treatment and residential (Tier III) programs for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, and in alternative and juvenile justice facilities with students who are 18 years old and beyond.  There also is a preschool through early adolescence Stop & Think Program for parents- - to help guide them on how to teach and reinforce prosocial skills at home. 

_ _ _ _ _


The Stop & Think Program’s Evidence-based Status 


   The Stop & Think Social Skills Program was designated an evidence-based and national model prevention program by SAMHSA in 2000, and it was listed at that time on the NREPP registry.  It was also identified as a “Promising Program” by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in 2003.  Finally, among other accolades, it was designated a “Select” program by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) in 2002.  The Stop & Think Program is now an embedded component of Project ACHIEVE, which continues to be listed on the updated NREPP website by SAMHSA.

_ _ _ _ _


The Stop & Think Program’s Research Foundations  


   The Stop & Think Social Skills Program is based on:


   * The ecological work of Bronfenbrenner (1977)


   * The strategic planning approaches of Cook (1990), Valentine (1991), and Knoff (2007)


   * The cognitive and social learning theory research of Meichenbaum (1977) and Bandura (1977)


   * The social skills research of Goldstein (1988) and Cartledge and Milburn (1995) 



   Consistent with Bronfenbrenner and Valentine, the Stop & Think Social Skills Program is implemented in a systemic way- - as part of a comprehensive school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management approach.  In this context, the Program is the anchor of Project ACHIEVE’s Positive Behavioral Support System, which has been implemented in thousands of schools nationwide since 1989.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 


How Social Skills Training Facilitates Student Self-Management:  Science-to-Practice


   From a science-to-practice perspective, there are seven interdependent Principles that establish the foundation of social skills instruction, mastery, and implementation.  These Principles represent the most effective and efficient path to students’ learning and independent use of the different social skills taught- - whether the instruction is based on a formal, published curriculum, or a “home-grown,” locally-customized curriculum. 


   While social skills instruction may “look” different from skill to skill, teacher to teacher, and setting to setting, this is not problematic so long as the seven underlying Principles are embedded and present (even if not immediately apparent).


   Said a different way:  Social skills instruction should be relevant, fun, and practical.  It should be tailored to students’ backgrounds, social settings, and needs.  Teachers are encouraged to use instructional creative, originality, and flexibility to meet these criteria.  In these contexts, the process will succeed- - so long as the underlying Principles are not ignored or violated.

_ _ _ _ _


Principle 1.  Social skills programs teach sensible and pragmatic classroom-centered skills that are needed by today's students and that can be applied, on a daily basis, by preschool through high school students.  These skills are essential to academic engagement, learning, and academic achievement.  They help students to be successful in a preventative sense, as well as to successfully avoid or respond to challenging situations.


   Commentary:  Social skills are behaviors that students learn- - just like they learn academic skills.  While we often focus on what we don't want students to do ("don't fight," "don't talk back," "don't interrupt," "don't tease or taunt other students"), social skills focus on the desired, prosocial behaviors that we want students to do.  Significantly, when students perform desired behaviors, they rarely do inappropriate behaviors at the same time.


   As introduced above, the Stop & Think Social Skills Program is organized in four age- and developmentally-sensitive levels:  Preschool through Grade 1, Grades 2 and 3, Grades 4 and 5, and Middle School/Grades 6 to 8 (which is often adapted upwards to the high school level).  As part of a school-wide Positive Behavioral Support System (PBSS) approach, Stop & Think social skills are designed to be taught to all students, in all general education classrooms, by all general education teachers.  For students with greater need and more challenging behaviors, the social skills are also taught in more targeted social skills training groups by special education, related services, and/or mental health support professionals. 


   The Stop & Think Social Skills Program teaches specific, observable and measurable behaviors.  At each school-aged level, the Stop & Think process focuses on ten Core and ten Advanced skills. 


   Examples of the Core and Advanced Stop & Think social skills (some of these skills are taught at the different grade levels) include:


Sample Core Skills:



   Waiting for an Adult’s Attention 

   Following Directions

   Contributing to Discussions

   Answering Classroom Questions

   How to Interrupt

   Asking for Help

   Ignoring Distractions

   Responding to Teasing


   Accepting Consequences  

   Dealing with Losing


Sample Advanced Skills:


   Deciding What to Do         

   Asking for Permission        

   Joining an Activity    

   Giving/Accepting a Compliment     

   Understanding Your/Others’ Feelings

   Dealing with Anger

   Dealing with Being Rejected or Left Out

   Dealing with Accusations  

   Avoiding Trouble or Conflict Situations

   Dealing with Peer Pressure

_ _ _ _ _


Principle 2.  Social skills programs also teach sensible and pragmatic routines that help students to successfully navigate within the classroom, as well as across the common areas of their school.  These skills increase their self-sufficiency and academic independence within the classroom, along with their interpersonal success and safety outside of the classroom.  Once again, this instruction assists them in a preventative sense, while also helping them to successfully avoid or respond to challenging situations.


Sample Classroom and Building Routine Clusters


   Classroom Routines- - Instructional

   Working in a Cooperative Group

   Completing Seatwork or Independent Work Assignments

   What to Do When You Finish a Classroom Paper or Assignment

   Taking Timed Tests


   Classroom Routines- - Procedural

   Entering a Classroom

   Hanging Coats and Backpacks

   Bringing and Organizing Materials for Class


   Classroom Routines- - Situational

   When Your Teacher Gives You Feedback (or a Consequence)

   When the Teacher is Absent, and You have a Substitute

   When Visitors Come into Your Classroom


   Building Routines- - Procedural

   Walking in Line in the Building/Hallway Walking

   Entering, Getting Food, Eating, and Exiting the Cafeteria

   Keeping the School Clean

   Entering, Waiting, Using, and Exiting the Bathroom

   Entering/Exiting the Auditorium/Audience Behavior

   Entering, Playing, Using Equipment, and Exiting the Playground

   Entering, Riding, and Exiting the School Bus


   Special Situation Routines

   Reporting a Safety Issue, Accident, or a Dangerous Situation

   Walking Away from a Fight/Conflict

   The Fire Drill

   School Lock-down

   Weather-/Crisis-related Procedures

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


Principle 3.  Social skills programs teach their skills in an organized and progressive, yet flexible, “scope and sequence” of social skills that recognizes that some prerequisite skills must be mastered before other, more complex skills are taught.  Instruction utilizes effective, established, and research-based pedagogical practices that include:


   * Cognitive-behavioral instruction, practice, conditioning, and mastery;


   * External prompts and (eventually) self-prompts that facilitate the transfer of training and application of specific skills to different times, settings, situations, and circumstances;


   * The strategic use of external feedback with positive reinforcement and correction (when needed), and the attainment of self-monitoring, self-reinforcement, and self-correction (when needed); all resulting in


   * Social and emotional self-management, and behavioral “automaticity.”


   Commentary:  All four levels of the Stop & Think Social Skills Program have a field-tested, validated, and preferred sequence for the ten Core Skills and ten Advanced Skills that are included.  The sequence was generated by classroom teachers nationwide- - some of whom had used the Stop & Think Program for almost a decade (from 1990 to 2000- - before the curriculum was formally published. 


   While the scope and sequences are preferred, they are not absolute.  Indeed, teachers can re-sequence skills to respond to specific behavioral goals, challenging classroom problems, or desired curricular units or themes as long as they (a) do this as a grade-level team, and (b) are mindful that some social skills have prerequisite social skills that must be taught first.  In addition, teachers are encouraged to “make up” their own social skills if a needed skill is not reflected in the curriculum.


   Beyond this, the Stop & Think Social Skills Program teaches all of its skills using the established, research-based cognitive-behavioral social learning theory approach that consists of:


   * Teaching the Social Skills Scripts simultaneously with the Associated Behavior;


   * Teacher or Adult Skill Script and Behavioral Modeling;


   * Student Roleplay/Practice with Positive Reinforcement or Corrective Performance Feedback; and


   * The Transfer of the Social Skills Training.

_ _ _ _ _


   Relative to the Transfer of Training, the Stop & Think Social Skills Program then uses a “Teach-Apply-Infuse” pedagogy of instruction that involves teaching students each social skill in a (prototypical) “Two-Week Rotation.”


   The Program then addressed the goals of behavioral self-management, automaticity, and independence (a) by organizing the weekly, year-long Social Skills Calendar to include opportunities for “massed” and “distributed practice;” and (b) by revisiting many skills from year-to-year.


   Relative to this latter point, many skills are taught every year from preschool to high school.  As this is done, students not only “solidify” their performance of these specific skills, but they also learn how to execute these skills at the more sophisticated, socially-demanding, and interpersonally complex levels needed as they grow and mature. 


   NOTE:  A number of the instructional points above will be described in greater detail in the remaining Principles below.

_ _ _ _ _


Principle 4.  Social skills programs use a universal language that is easy for students to learn, guides cognitive scripting and mediation, and facilitates the conditioning, reconditioning, or motivation of students’ prosocial behaviors and choices.


   Commentary:  Social skills in the Stop & Think Social Skills Program are taught (as noted in Principle 3 above) by teaching social skills scripts that are simultaneously connected to the associated or related behaviors.  This occurs through the use of (a) a Universal Language that facilitates the emotional, cognitive, and motivational facets of a specific behavior; and (b) the Skill Script that guides the step-by-step execution of the behavior.


   Relative to the first area, the Stop & Think Social Skills Program uses a universal five-step language whenever a social skill is taught, reinforced, or implemented.  This language becomes internalized by students, and- - just like an academic script or algorithm (e.g., for regrouping or doing long division in math)- - it implicitly organizes and activates a student’s prosocial behavior.


   The five Stop & Think Universal steps are:


   * Stop and Think!


   * Are you going to make a Good Choice or Bad Choice?

         [You Need to Make a Good Choice.]


   * What are your Choices or Steps?


   * Do It!


   * Tell Yourself that You Did a “Good Job!”


[CLICK HERE for a Full Description of the Underlying Science and Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Reasons for these Steps]

_ _ _ _ _


   Relative to the second area, teachers teach specific “Skills Scripts” for each Stop & Think skill so that students learn and eventually demonstrate their prosocial, “Good Choice” skills. 


   There are two types of Skill Scripts—those that teach social skills in a step-by-step sequential fashion (“Step” skills), and those where students additionally need to consider and select one of a number of possible good choices (“Choice” skills). 


   For example, the Following Directions skill script below is an example of Step skill because there is only one correct sequence that will result in the successful execution of the behavior:


   1.  Listen to the Direction.

   2.  Ask yourself if you Understand the Direction (if not, Ask a question).

   3.  Repeat the steps of the Direction silently to yourself.

   4.  Get ready to Follow the Direction.



   The Dealing with Teasing skill script below demonstrates the elements of a Choice skill where students learn to socially evaluate the specific situation they are in so that they can strategically choose the best choice:


   1.  Take deep breaths and count to five.

   2.  Think about your good choices.  You can:

        a.  Ignore the teasing.

        b.  Ask the person to stop in a nice way.

        c.  Walk away with an Explanation of why.

        d.  Find an adult for help.

3.  Choose and Act Out your best choice.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _




   This three-part Blog series began by presenting the research that calls many of the Mindfulness approaches into question- - later contrasting that research with the many studies that support social, emotional, and behavioral skill instruction for all students in all classrooms.


   The critical conclusion was:


   If the primary goal of a Mindfulness program is to help students to be more aware and in control of their emotions, thoughts, and behavior, why would we not focus on the same goals- - but use a research-based approach that has a 30-year track record of success?

_ _ _ _ _


   In this second part of the series, we have presented the first four Principles that reflect the research-to-practice elements of sound and effective social skills instruction.  When discussing each of these Principles, we have used examples from the evidence-based Stop & Think Social Skills Program to demonstrate some prototypical ways of successfully teaching students social, emotional, and behavioral self-management.


   In Part III, we will discuss the last half of these Principles, and describe the typical outcomes of the Stop & Think Social Skills Program as seen in thousands of schools across the country.

_ _ _ _ _


   Meanwhile, I hope that the first two Blog in this series have helped you to evaluate your current (or missing) approaches in this important area, and to see more clearly the components and decisions that are most-relevant to your school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management approaches.


   But I also hope that you will take some time- - this week especially- - for yourself and your family. 


   The Thanksgiving holiday gives us a truly wonderful opportunity to reflect on the blessings in our lives, and to share our gratitude with family and friends. 


   I am thankful for professionals like you- - dedicated to your students, your colleagues, and to the important work that you do to make every day successful, so that everyone’s tomorrow will be better in turn.


   Happy Thanksgiving, friends !!!





Teaching Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Self-Management Skills to All Students:  The Cognitive-Behavioral Science Underlying the Success of The Stop & Think Social Skills Program

New Article Again Debunks “Mindfulness” in Schools: Teaching Emotional and Behavioral Self-Management through Cognitive-Behavioral Science and The Stop & Think Social Skills Program