Preschool Program

A program for parents, schools and community agencies
to help preschool children with emotional and behavioural problems





Rationale for the program

Emotional and behavioural problems of childhood are often evident by three years of age and can cause long-term difficulties for children and families. Problems may take the form of externalising (acting out) behaviours (eg. aggression, oppositionality) and/or internalising (acting in) behaviours (eg. withdrawal and anxiety). It is now recognised that early identification of children at risk of developing emotional and behavioural disorders, followed by early intervention, is necessary if the health of these children is to be protected and the risk of them developing long-term emotional and behavioural disorders is to be reduced.

The preschool period has been selected as an opportune time for early intervention because as families prepare their child to begin formal schooling, they are generally open to advice and assistance. Parents also have more influence early in childhood in managing and shaping their children's behaviour. The earlier the intervention the more positive the outcome is likely to be for the whole family.

The Exploring Together Preschool Program is a short-term, community based, multifaceted group treatment program for children in their preschool or early primary school years (3 - 7 years old) who have externalising and/or internalising behaviour problems, and for their parents and preschool teachers. The Preschool Program is based upon the Exploring Together Primary School Program, which is a well researched, empirically validated, and proven effective program for families with children aged 5-14 years whose long-term mental health is at risk.

The Exploring Together Preschool Program focuses on supporting parents, enhancing parenting practices, strengthening family units, reducing children's problematic behaviour, developing children's social skills and enhancing their self esteem.

The Program involves combined parent-child interaction groups and separate, concurrent groups for parents and children. Meetings for partners or support persons and for preschool teachers are held regularly throughout the program. Thus the program is multi-faceted and involves all the significant people in the child's life to enhance change across contexts. It also promotes family and preschool communication and connectedness, which are known protective factors that help prevent the development of emotional and behavioural disorders.

Families and children who may be helped

This program is designed for families with children aged 3 - 7 years, in their preschool or early primary school years, and who have emotional and behavioural problems. These problems include:

  • aggression
  • hyperactivity/impulsivity
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • separation anxiety
  • problematic peer relationships
  • oppositional behaviour
  • distractible/inattentive behaviour
  • phobias
  • social withdrawal
  • sibling rivalry
  • difficult parent-child relationships.

One parent must be able to attend a ten-week program during the day, at the same time as the child. One parent and an adult significant in the parenting process (eg. partner) should be able to attend two evening sessions during the course of the group. Each program involves 5-6 children and their families.

The program for children and their families aims to

  • enhance self-esteem and decrease problematic behaviour
  • enhance interpersonal and social skills
  • provide training in problem solving and behaviour management
  • improve communication and understanding between family members
  • empower families to use their own resources more effectively so that relationships between family members can improve.

Program outlines

1. first parent-child interactive group

The first parent-child interactive group uses direct dyad work. This group aims to help parents and children:

  • develop age appropriate expectations of children's behaviour
  • enhance communication
  • develop emotion regulation skills
  • manage separation issues
  • develop strategies to deal with difficult behaviour
  • facilitate cooperative relationships
  • improve problem solving
  • experience play and mutual enjoyment
  • work on relationship issues as they arise.

2. parents' group

The parents' group uses discussion and modelling to:

  • develop parents' understanding of factors underlying their children's behaviour
  • challenge parents' unhelpful beliefs about their children's behaviour and about parenting
  • teach behaviour management principles and techniques, and put these into practice
  • teach emotion regulation principles and techniques, and put these into practice
  • deal with parenting issues and relationship issues
  • confront some of the parents' erroneous perceptions of their children and themselves
  • assist parents to get more in touch with and manage their strong emotions
  • deal with parents' isolation, depression, lack of assertiveness and poor self-esteem
  • deal with current family issues and, if necessary, those from families of origin
  • recognise parents' strengths and foster use of their own resources.

3. children's group

This group aims to reduce children's antisocial behaviour problems while at the same time develop their emotion regulation skills and improve their peer interactions. This group focuses on teaching the children:

  • prosocial skills
  • how to negotiate friendships
  • sharing and turn taking
  • affect recognition
  • how to cope with frustration
  • management of strong emotions (eg anger, anxiety)
  • the basics of problem solving and decision making.

4. second parent-child interactive group

The second parent-child interactive group focuses around joint activities and continues to use direct dyad work. In addition to all the benefits of the first interactive group, this group aims to help parents and children:

  • handle reunion after separation
  • focus on major issues for this age group, eg. handling daily tasks
  • deal with sharing and other behaviour problems
  • observe other families and the way others resolve issues
  • normalise their own difficulties/recognise their strengths.
Morning/afternoon tea is included as a core component of this session to elicit issues around sharing and eating together so that these can be worked on in the context of the group

5. partners' evenings

These are attended either by both parents, or by the parent attending the group and a support person. The focus is on adults working together and supporting each other in providing an appropriate environment for their child's development.

6. preschool teacher meetings

The aim of these meetings is to promote a consistent approach in the management of the child across the different systems in the child's life. The meetings also provide the opportunity for two-way feedback between preschool teachers and group leaders as well as offering support for dealing with the child in the preschool setting.

Structure and content of the 'Exploring Together Preschool Program'

The Exploring Together Preschool Program involves 5 - 6 families participating in group work over 10 consecutive weeks, plus pre-group and post-group family interviews for assessment, evaluation and feedback. Group work consists of interactive parent-child groups plus separate concurrent groups for children and parents. Meetings with the partners of the parent attending the group take place twice during the 10-week program. Leaders also meet with the children's preschool teachers on two occasions during this period. Four leaders are required to run each program (two for the children's group and two for the parents' group). At least two of the leaders must have attended Exploring Together Training. The time commitment for each leader is at least 3 hours per week. This includes preparation time, group time, post-group debriefing and planning.

First parent-child interactive group - 4 leaders / 40 minutes
Children's group - 2 leaders / 1 hour
Parents' group - 2 leaders / 1 hour
Second parent-child interactive group - 4 leaders / 20 minutes

(pre group) Initial interviews
Week 1 - First meeting
Week 2 - meeting
Preschool teacher's meeting
Partner's evening
Weeks 3 - 9 - meetings
Preschool teacher's meeting
Partner's evening
Week 10 - Last meeting
(post group) Feedback interviews

What does exploring together achieve?

The Exploring Together Program has been conducted in community settings, clinics, schools and preschools with considerable success. A comprehensive evaluation of the Primary School Program has been undertaken by La Trobe University. After the children and their parents participated in the 10-week Exploring Together Program, 74% of the children were rated by both parents and teachers as having decreased their aggressive behaviour, while 79% of the children showed an improvement in their attention. Sixty-seven percent of the children showed a decrease in their anxious-depressed behaviour, 64% improved their social skills, and 61% of children decreased their withdrawn behaviour. Many of the families involved came from disadvantaged groups in the community who would not normally access this type of assistance.

The Exploring Together Program for primary school children has won three National Awards in recognition of its achievements:

  • An Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Services Achievement Award - for 'excellence and innovation'
  • An Australian Violence Prevention Award (Commendation), awarded by Australian Heads of Government
  • The Robin Winkler Award for excellence in a Community Psychology Project awarded by the Australian Psychological Society to Dr Lyn Littlefield.

The Exploring Together Preschool Program was supported by the William Buckland Foundation.

Training for professionals is available on request for this program.

contact us

Box 11, 607 Lygon St Princes Hill Victoria 3054. P 0438879360