Kennesaw State is offering a new undergraduate internship opportunity that allows students to work with and help children develop their social skills.
KSU’s School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development is now offering this unique program each semester where students learn how to correctly address behavioral problems in children and how to help them develop positive social skills.
According to Dr. Allison Garefino, clinical director of the school’s children and family programs, the program mainly focuses on elementary school children, typically ranging from five to 12 years old, and it is structured as a recreational after-school program.
“The kids don’t know that they are receiving treatment, per say — they just get to do different activities, field days and arts and crafts, but in a situation where KSU undergraduate student interns, usually in psychology, are trained to implement the intervention,” Garefino said.
These social skills are implemented by practicing evidence-based behavioral intervention, using behavioral modifications to increase positive social behaviors and decrease negative social behaviors, Garefino said.
“We also help teach social-emotional development to help the kids internalize some of the correct behaviors they should do and how to handle frustrating situations,” Garefino said.
The program practices a “token economy” where the children earn rewards by gaining social skill points.
“Non-compliance is one of the behaviors that parents really struggle with, meaning that when you ask the child to do something, the child does not make a reasonable or appropriate effort within ten seconds to comply to the adult’s command,” Garefino said. “When this occurs, the child loses a social skill point for not being a good listener or for whatever the negative behavior might be.”
Giving the children more praise than negative feedback is very crucial for increasing their positive behaviors, according to Garefino.
“By losing a social skill point the child is getting negative feedback right away, but the key to teaching the social skills, for us, is anytime we have to talk to a child about a negative behavior, we make sure to give them three positives,” Garefino said. “Usually kids receive three negative feedbacks for every one praise they might receive, so we very consciously change that.”
Garefino said that children facing behavioral challenges are usually treated with individual therapy or through speaking with a school counselor, but she said that there is currently no evidence that these treatments helps change the children’s behavior.
“We not only work with the kids directly giving them the treatment they need, but we also work with the parents to teach them how to do what we do, while at the same time teaching the undergraduates a framework for how to work with children,” Garefino said. “I think that this is one of the most helpful things for the community.”
Undergraduate students of all majors are welcome to apply for the internship. Garefino said that she is looking for more interested undergraduate students in psychology, nursing and education to join the program.
The program’s fall session will begin on Oct. 8, and the spring program will start in February.
“I’m thrilled to be able to work with KSU undergrads who are presumably going to go on and work with parents and families where they will already have experience implementing evidence-based intervention, which is what we know actually works based on the literature,” Garefino said.
More information about this program as well as other children and family programs offered at KSU’s center for conflict management can be found on the center’s website.