Children’s Social Problem-Solving Skills, Behavioral Adjustment, and Interventions: A Meta-Analysis Evaluating Theory and Practice

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NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 29 describes the following:

Title | Children’s Social Problem-Solving Skills, Behavioral Adjustment, and Interventions: A Meta-Analysis Evaluating Theory and Practice

Author | Denham, S.A. & Almeida, M.C.

Source Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 8(4), 391-409

Year Published | 1987

Meta-analyses of the literature were performed to examine reported relations between children’s interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS) skills and adjustment and to specify the effects of ICPS training. In general, the relation between ICPS and adjustment appears robust, and interventions yield clear increases in ICPS skills. Intervention effects on behavioral adjustment are found to be somewhat more equivocal; meta-analytic results differ depending on whether behavioral ratings or observations are the dependent variables. Age of subject, source of publication, and expertise of investigator are boundary conditions for the meta-analysis regarding ICPS and adjustment; teacher/child dialogues on ICPS principles in real-life situations, expertise of investigator, source and quality of publication, and length of interventions mediate magnitude of certain intervention effects. Further research is needed where data were sparse, as in follow-up data effects of intervention for various special populations.

The interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS) theory of behavior predicts that children who have a number of alternative ICPS skills to draw from can be more flexible in choosing solutions to social conflicts, are less likely to act impulsively, and more likely to act appropriately in social situations. Some examples of ICPS skills are:

  1. the ability to generate a number of alternative solutions to a conflict;
  2. the ability to choose and implement an appropriate solution to a conflict;
  3. understanding and consideration of the social consequences of one’s actions for oneself and others.

A number of ICPS skills programs have been developed. However, studies on the utility of ICPS training have had mixed results and some studies need to be disregarded because flawed research methods have made it difficult to interpret their findings. This meta-analysis examines the strongest research on ICPS programs to determine the effectiveness of this type of training.

Research Questions
This meta-analysis sought to determine from the research on interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS):

  1. Whether students’ level of ICPS skills related to their level of behavioral adjustment;
  2. If ICPS training improves ICPS skills, ratings of social competence, and social behavior.

Research Design

  • Number of Studies Included | 50
  • Number of Subjects | N/A
  • Years Spanned | 1972-1986

Research Subjects
Children both with and without disabilities who participated in interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS) interventions.

Age/Grade of Subjects
Subjects were between 3 and 12 years old.

Specified Disability
Behavioral disorders/extreme aggression; Emotional Disturbance (ED); Learning Disabilities (LD); Intellectual Disability

Interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS) interventions.

Duration of Intervention
Interventions were spilt between those involving up to 39 hours of Interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS) skills interventions and those involving 40 hours or more. The meta-analysis found interventions lasting 40 hours or more lead to better-acquired ICPS skills.


  1. School-based interventions can lead to beneficial changes in the self-perceptions of students with LD.
  2. Interventions using both skill development and self-enhancement approaches succeeded in improving the self-concepts of students with LD.
  3. Interventions that used group counseling techniques produced favorable outcomes for students of varying ages.
  4. Academic interventions seemed particularly beneficial to middle-school students.
  5. One effective intervention that was included in the meta-analysis targeted parents of students with LD, rather than the students themselves. Children whose parents participated in a parent effectiveness training course, in which the parents were taught to respond more affirmatively to their children, showed improvement in their self-concept compared to children whose parents did not receive the training.
  6. The length of time an intervention was implemented did not appear to alter the effectiveness of an intervention.

Combined Effects Size

  1. Social problem-solving interventions produced strong effects on social problem-solving measures (d = 0.78), but weak effects were found for behavior ratings (d = 0.26).
  2. The two hypotheses that had relatively strong mean effect sizes were “Children trained in ICPS skills demonstrate a higher level of these skills at post-test than do no-treatment controls” and “Social behaviors which are observed at post-test are more positive for ICPS trained children than for control children” (d = 0.78 and 0.75 respectively).
  3. The hypotheses that “Adjusted children score higher on interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS) measures than non-adjusted children” and “A direct relationship between ICPS skills and improvement in behavioral adjustment can be shown,” both showed moderate mean effect sizes (d = 0.58 and 0.52 respectively);
  4. However, the hypothesis that “Teachers’ post-test behavior ratings for ICPS trained children are more positive than those for control children” had a weak effect size (d = 0.26).

Children can improve their interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS) skills through ICPS training. Children who have received interpersonal cognitive problem-solving (ICPS) training demonstrate higher levels of ICPS skills and positive social behaviors than children who have not received training. ICPS training is a moderately effective way of increasing social competence and behavioral adjustment. Important components of successful ICPS training included:

  • An investigator with expertise in ICPS training;
  • Students dialoging with teachers about how to handle real social conflicts as they arise during the school day;
  • Opportunities for students to practice ICPS skills and receive reinforcement from the teacher when they respond appropriately to social problems.

Denham and Almeida suggest that more research should be conducted in ICPS training examining the following areas:

  • The effect of Dialoguing on social behavior. Though dialoguing between teachers and students about social problems and appropriate ICPS skills showed promise in the studies where it was used, dialoguing had only been used in a limited number of studies when this meta-analysis was published.
  • Follow-up data to show whether gains in ICPS skills are maintained or slowly lost over time.
  • What modifications need to be made to ICPS training to make it effective for specific populations such as children with emotional and/or behavioral disorders (EBD).
  • The elements of socially competent behavior other than ICPS skills. What is the importance of ICPS skills relative to the other components of socially competent behavior? Should ICPS be taught along with the other aspects of socially competent behavior, or separately?


* Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which (1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; (2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; and (3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

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