Live Interactive Chat
Looking at Challenging Behaviors through a Cultural Lens
July 27, 2005
Rosa Milagros (Amy) Santos
Greetings, CSEFEL Chat participants. Welcome to the fifth in the Online Live Chat series sponsored by the Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior (CEBP) and the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). Our chat this evening is titled "Looking at Challenging Behaviors through a Cultural Lens." Let me begin by introducing our guest speaker, Dr. Amy Santos, Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Hi! I'm Amy Santos and I'm very happy to be here! I welcome your questions.
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Now let's begin our chat. Dr. Santos, here's a question that we received prior to today's chat session:
I had a child in my class who came in with circular burns on her back. When I asked the parents about the burns, they said that this was a method of curing the child from sickness. As a mandated reporter of child abuse, what is my role in this situation?
In some cultures, "cupping" is used as a form of treatment for different types of illnesses. Your role is to learn more about these practices before you make a determination on whether or not this is a reportable offense. It would really help if you can talk to the family first about your concerns and ask them questions about the treatment. You can also learn more about the treatment procedures by talking with other members of the community, reading books and other sources of information.
Dr. Santos, here's our next question:
At an IEP meeting I recently attended as a representative of the special education program at our school, the parents did not say a word during the entire meeting and barely made eye contact. What can I do to get input from the parents about what they want for their child?
There are several ways you can facilitate families' participation in a meeting. One is to ask them if they would like an advocate who can be present with them during a meeting. Two is to provide families with information prior to the meeting such as the procedures, who will be present, the kinds of questions they can and should ask, etc. Third is to allow for more time during the meeting so that parents can begin to feel more comfortable.
Dr. Santos, here's our next question:
A student in my class is being referred for special education. His first language is Spanish. How can I be sure that he is being referred for his disabilities and not because of his language difference?
It is very important that every child receives a fair assessment to determine an accurate diagnosis and appropriate referral for special education services. Make sure that the assessment was conducted by a qualified professional, who is knowledgeable of and sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences. It is also important that the assessment is conducted in the child's primary language.
Make sure that the assessment tools you are using are appropriate for the child. For example, is it developmentally appropriate? Is the tool normed with a similar population as the child's cultural and linguistic background? It is also important that you use multiple ways or methods for collecting data or information about the child. Finally, throughout the assessment process, it is important that the families are involved and are considered as an important source of information about the child.
The National Association on the Education of Young Children, NAEYC, has a paper on important considerations when assessing young English language learners. Visit their web site for this important resource at http://naeyc.org. In addition, refer to the CSEFEL What Works Briefs #2 for more information about determining whether or not there is a disability or if it is simply a cultural and/or linguistic difference: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/whatworks.html.
Chat participants, as you've all arrived safely in the CSEFEL Chat room, on your way here you have undoubtedly passed through the CSEFEL Web site: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/.
We encourage you to also visit CSEFEL's sister project, the Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior, at the University of South Florida. That Center's Web site can be found at: http://challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/index.html. The Center's mission is to promote the use of evidence-based practice to meet the needs of young children who have, or are at risk for, problem behavior.
Dr. Santos, here's our next question, from Barry.
I'd like to know if you have some guidelines for supporting early childhood teachers to be conscious of our cultural lens when -- or before -- we encounter "challenging behaviors," and how you, in fact, advise framing "challenging behaviors."
Barry, it would have to start with examining our own beliefs about behaviors. This is shaped by influences in our own upbringing, our community, and our "larger culture."
For further information, there are a number of resources that can aid early childhood teachers examine their own beliefs about behaviors. For example, Eleanor Lynch and Marci J. Hanson (2005), Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: A Guide for Working with Children and Their Families, is a good book to start with. This is published by Brookes.
It is important for us to remember that challenging behavior is viewed differently by individuals as well as cultural groups, so that what could be viewed as "challenging behavior" by one group, may not be viewed as such by another group.
You can find additional resources on "Looking at Challenging Behaviors through a Cultural Lens" in the supplement to this Chat session. This supplement is available on the CSEFEL Web site at this URL:
What do you find are the most challenging behaviors for teachers of young children in light of cultural differences today? Are they similar to years past, or are there some different challenges we face today?
Corie, that is an interesting question. What we deem as unacceptable behavior today may not have been viewed as unacceptable 20 years ago. This change may be due to the changing climate in our schools and larger society.
Dr. Santos, here's our next question:
One of my goals for a child I work with is for her to be able to make eye contact. The family does not seem to agree with this goal. What could be going on in this situation and how can I resolve it?
It might help if you can explain to the family why the ability to make eye contact is an important skill for the child.
You might want to also consider alternate skills that you can teach that would serve a similar purpose. For example, is making eye contact a way for the child to show attention? If so, what other behaviors might you consider instead of eye contact as a way for the child to show attention?
It would also help if you find out from the family why they disagree with this as a goal. Perhaps, they have other goals that they deem important and would rather focus on those than what you have in mind. Making a list of the goals you and the family have and prioritizing what is important would be a good start.
As noted at the beginning of this Chat, Dr. Santos is a faculty member in the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the coordinator of the Early Childhood Special Education masters program at the university. Dr. Santos's research interests focus on the impact of cultural and linguistic diversity on services for young children with disabilities, their families, and professionals who work with them.
Dr. Santos, here's our next question:
How can I ask a parent about their child's behavior in a culturally sensitive way?
Building positive relationships is a critical component to effectively work with families. Taking the time to get to know the family and learn from them, about them, is an important stepping stone to building positive relationships.
CSEFEL's training modules 1 and 3 include some important information on ways to effectively work with families. See http://csefel.uiuc.edu/modules.html.
Please note that many of the resources on the CSEFEL Web site are available not only in English but also in Spanish. For example, for English and Spanish versions of the CSEFEL Training Modules, see the page: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/modules.html. For publications in the "What Works Briefs" series, see the page: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/whatworks.html.
Dr. Santos, how would you describe your cultural lens?
Barry, are you asking about my cultural background? If so, I am of Filipino descent. I am in academia. I have lived in the U.S. for 15 years and prior to that was born and raised in the Philippines to a middle class family.
Remember that you may send a question at any time to the CSEFEL staff. Just email your question to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also phone in a question to 877-275-3227. CSEFEL staff are usually available between 8-12 and 1-5 (Central Time) on business days.
Dr. Santos, how do I know if a curious behavior is really a problem behavior, and not some type of behavior that's common in this particular child's social or cultural or ethnic group?
Lupe, start by finding out from the family if they see this behavior as a problem behavior or not. It would also help to talk to other members of the child's community to see if the child's behavior is one that is common to the culture or is it one that should be worried about.
It is relatively easy to talk to parents about challenging behaviors like spanking, regardless of cultural influences—parents often are able to see that spanking does more harm to a child than good. But I would like your advice on how to find a "meeting of the minds" with other adults (staff/parents) who are raised to believe that an authoritarian adult who directs rather than engages children is appropriate. I believe it's cases like this in which the control issues can lead to challenging behaviors in children—for example, to less initiative, less self-control, and lower child outcomes across domains. I have a really hard time accepting a "cultural focus" that wants children to be quiet and complacent, and that teaches that adults solve problems that children have with materials and between children. It seems as obvious to me as "spanking," that we want to go in a different direction with children. Ideas?
Maryann, this is a question that I am commonly asked because it borders on the issue of child abuse, but let me try to share my thoughts about this issue.
Indeed there are cultural groups that have specific expectations of young children that we may not necessarily agree with. As educators, it is our job to share with families and colleagues what we know about practices that are more effective.
There are studies out there that show that punishment, such as spanking, does not produce the kinds of behavior that we expect them to produce; thus it is imperative that we find alternatives to this practice that would produce more effective results.
What I would recommend is that you have candid dialog with your colleagues and others about this issue and learn from each other about their beliefs about this issue. Following this, you can then share the alternatives to spanking that have been shown to be more effective in addressing challenging behaviors.
With regard to the last question, chat participants may be interested in this Digest from the former ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education: The Debate over Spanking by Dawn Ramsburg. This digest is available at: http://ceep.crc.uiuc.edu/eecearchive/digests/1997/ramsbu97.html.
Here's another short Tip Sheet on spanking from the Illinois Early Learning Project: Don’t Spank! Here’s What You Can Do Instead! which is available at: http://illinoisearlylearning.org/tipsheets/spankingalternatives.htm.
And the Spanish version of that Illinois Early Learning Tip Sheet is ¡Nada de nalgadas! Lo que Ud. puede hacer en lugar de pegarle al niño, which is available at: http://illinoisearlylearning.org/tipsheets-sp/spankingalternatives-sp.htm.
Many times the teachers in preschool classrooms find that a child with challenging behavior seems to be exhibiting behavior which is beyond their abilities. They feel the child should be referred for testing for special needs. However, the parents refuse to consider the possibility. This may have nothing to do with culture, however. Are there additional methods you find are helpful in dealing with families from different cultural backgrounds which would help them see the benefits of having their child tested?
Corie, first it is important to understand why parents might refuse to go through the process of having their child tested. It was not long ago when children from specific cultural groups were misdiagnosed and inappropriately placed in special education. Some parents might have had those experiences in their families or themselves, thus are reluctant to put their children through the same experiences.
Start by continuing to have conversations with the family about the child's needs. Open that line of communication and be a good listener to understand parents' concerns and reluctance to participate in the process.
It is also possible that some parents simply don't understand the process and therefore may be unwilling to go through it with their child. Explaining in a clear way the process to the parents will make this a smoother process for all involved. Finally, sometimes going through an advocate, or someone that the parents trust will help.
As mentioned earlier, tonight's Chat session is the fifth event in the CEBP / CSEFEL Chat series for the 2004-2005 academic year. The first chat was held on September 29. In that chat, Lise Fox of the University of South Florida addressed the topic of "What to Do When Children Say 'NO!'".
The transcript of that chat is available in English at: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/chat/fox-trans.html. The Spanish version of the transcript, "Pasos a dar cuando los niños dicen ¡NO!," can also be found at http://csefel.uiuc.edu/chat/fox-trans-sp.html.
The second online Chat in the CEBP / CSEFEL series was presented on November 18 by Micki Ostrosky and Tweety Yates of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The topic was "Classroom Environments That Work: Preventing Problem Behavior." The transcript of this chat is available on the CSEFEL Web site at: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/chat/ostrosky-yates-trans.html.
The Spanish version of the Ostrosky and Yates chat is also available. "Ambientes exitosos. La prevención de comportamientos problemáticos" can be viewed at: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/chat/ostrosky-yates-trans-sp.html.
On January 26, 2005, Matt Timm of Tennessee Voices for Children was the guest for the third online Chat in the series. This chat addresses the topic of "Creating Home/Program Partnerships That Work: Supporting Children with Problem Behavior."
The English transcript of this chat is available at: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/chat/timm-trans.html. Likewise, the Spanish version, "La creación de colaboraciones exitosas entre el hogar y la guardería. Apoyo para niños con comportamientos problemáticos," can be found at: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/chat/timm-trans-sp.html.
The previous chat to tonight's chat, which was the fourth in the series, was presented by Barbara Smith of the University of Colorado at Denver. This chat, on March 30, addressed the topic of "Leadership Strategies for Supporting Children's Social and Emotional Development and Addressing Challenging Behavior." The transcript of this chat is available at http://csefel.uiuc.edu/chat/smith-trans.html.
The Spanish transcript of Barbara Smith's chat, "Estrategias de liderazgo para apoyar el desarrollo social y emocional de los niños y tratar los comportamientos problemáticos," is also available at this URL: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/chat/smith-trans-sp.html.
There is one more chat scheduled in the CEBP / CSEFEL online Chat series. This chat will be held on Wednesday, October 5, 2005, at 8:00 pm Eastern Time, 7:00 pm Central Time, etc. In that chat, Ted Bovey of the University of Colorado at Denver will present information on the topic "Supporting Peer Social Skills in Early Childhood Settings."
Information on this upcoming chat will be available on the CSEFEL Chat page at: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/chat.html.
Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family explicitly advocates the importance of using spanking to discipline a child in his widely-read "Dare to Discipline," and he underscores this in religious conviction (Christian). If a family we work with is a follower of this view, do you consider it a "cultural lens" issue? Have you had success in establishing a personal/professional relationship in circumstances like this?
Barry, that is a tough one, especially when it comes to a person's tightly held religious belief.
Let me share with you a story that might be helpful: I walked into a home of one of my students and the parent, right away, pointed to me the belt that they use to discipline their child. They wanted to show me that they are doing what they know best to help their child learn skills that they value most.
As an educator, I was taken aback by this approach, but I did not want to lose the family nor ostracize them for their beliefs. So, I took a deep breath, and asked them to share with me under what circumstances they used the belt.
What I found out was that the belt has been used very minimally in the last months (if at all). They use it mostly as a threat to the child. I took that opportunity to open a dialog with them of other methods that they could try to achieve the same result.
My goal in this interaction was to open the lines of communication with the family so that I could continue to be a resource to them and at the same time, support them in using more positive practices.
Chat participants may be interested in the series of five Training Modules prepared by the CSEFEL staff. The modules were designed to help administrators, educators, and family members address the social-emotional needs of young children. The content of the modules is consistent with evidence-based practices identified through a thorough review of the literature.
Module 1 deals with Classroom Preventive Practices. Module 2 discusses Social-Emotional Teaching Strategies. Modules 3A and 3B consider Individualized Intensive Interventions. Module 4 presents Leadership Strategies. These modules are available in full text, in both English and Spanish, on the CSEFEL Web site. See the Training Modules page at: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/modules.html.
Chat participants may also be interested in the series of sixteen What Works Briefs. The Briefs are summaries of effective practices for supporting children's social-emotional development and for preventing challenging behaviors. Most of the Briefs are available full text on the CSEFEL Web site. Some of them are also available in Spanish. See the What Works Briefs page at: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/whatworks.html.
Among the CSEFEL What Works Briefs, number 2 may be of special interest to tonight's chat participants. This Brief, "Understanding the Impact of Language Differences on Classroom" was prepared by tonight's guest, Dr. Amy Santos, along with her colleague Dr. Michaelene Ostrosky, also of the University of Illinois. This Brief and its related handout can be found, along with the other 15 examples, on the What Works Briefs page: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/whatworks.html.
What Works Brief #2 is also available in Spanish as " La comprensión del impacto de diferencias lingüísticas en el comportamiento dentro del aula." The Spanish version can be found at the same URL for the English version.
Dr. Santos, here's another question that we received prior to the chat:
Is it okay for me to teach children about what is acceptable behavior in school, when this is not reinforced or even when it seems to be contradictory with the family's beliefs?
Absolutely! It is important, however, that you explain to the family and to the child why the behaviors you are teaching them are important in the school setting. Sharing explicitly your expectations to families and children is a good way to start in building a positive relationship with the child and the family.
Another source for useful resources related to cultural issues in early childhood education is the Web site of the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Institute. Although funding for the Institute has been completed, resources gathered and prepared over the course of 5 years are still available through the Web site. The CLAS Home Page is at: http://clas.uiuc.edu/.
The CLAS staff gathered and reviewed a collection of culturally and linguistically appropriate materials, and information on these materials is available in a database prepared by CLAS. You can find this database at: http://clas.uiuc.edu/search.html.
Resources in this collection are searchable by subject, author, or title, or in several other ways. Some of these resources are available in full text and some of them include video clips.
Dr. Santos, here is our final question of the evening:
Half of the children in our day care center are from different ethnic backgrounds. Many are just beginning to learn English and I only know a few words in Spanish and Mandarin. How can I help all the children in our center learn our center's rules and schedule?
Pictures are a great way to get children to learn new concepts like rules and schedules. Matching written words with pictures helps children associate the new concepts with their written form. You can use these pictures in various ways, such as developing a picture schedule. You can also create a "bingo" game with the pictures to help children learn and remember rules. CSEFEL's Module 1 has great examples of picture schedules and other fun ways children can learn rules in the center. See Module 1 at: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/modules.html#module1.
The staffs of the Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior (CEBP) and the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) want to thank all of the participants in tonight's online Chat. Thanks very much for sending your excellent questions for our guest, Dr. Amy Santos. And thanks also for being so patient in waiting for responses.
Once again, please join us for the next chat in the CEBP / CSEFEL online Chat series. This chat will be held on Wednesday, October 5, 2005, at 8:00 pm Eastern Time, 7:00 pm Central Time, 6:00 pm Mountain Time, 5:00 pm Pacific Time. In this next chat, Ted Bovey of the University of Colorado at Denver will discuss "Supporting Peer Social Skills in Early Childhood Settings." Please see the CSEFEL Chat page for additional information: http://csefel.uiuc.edu/chat.html.
Finally, thanks very much, Dr. Amy Santos, for responding to all of our questions and for sharing your wisdom with us tonight.
Thank you for your thoughtful and intriguing questions this evening. Good night.
Thanks again, Chat Participants. Now it's time to turn off your computers and enjoy the beautiful evening. Here in Illinois our long, blazing heat wave has ended in favor of cool breezes. We hope that you're experiencing the same in your part of the country.