Effects of Child Skills Training in Preventing Antisocial Behavior: A Systematic Review of Randomized Evaluations

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NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 66 describes the following:

Title | Effects of Child Skills Training in Preventing Antisocial Behavior: A Systematic Review of Randomized Evaluations

Authors | Lösel, F., & Beelmann, A.

Source The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 587(1), 84-109.

Year Published | 2003

This article reports a meta-analysis on social skills training as a measure for preventing antisocial behavior in children and youth. From 851 documents, 84 reports containing 135 comparisons between treated and untreated youngsters (N = 16,723) fulfilled stepwise eligibility criteria (e.g., randomized control-group design, focus on prevention). Despite a wide range of positive and negative effect sizes*, the majority confirmed the benefits of treatment. The best estimated mean effects were d = .38 (postintervention) and .28 (follow-up). Effects were smaller on antisocial behavior than on related social and cognitive measures. Studies with large samples produced lower effect sizes than those with smaller samples. Programs targeting at-risk groups had better effects than universal programs. Modes of treatment did not differ significantly; however, cognitive-behavioral programs had the strongest impact on antisocial behavior. More well-controlled studies with large samples, hard outcome criteria, and long follow-up periods are needed, particularly outside the United States.

School shootings and other violent events on school grounds have gripped the United States in recent years, raising public concern about antisocial behavior in children. Depending on how broadly antisocial behavior* is defined it is estimated that between 5 and 20 percent of children and youth exhibit antisocial behavior. The fact that antisocial behavior in youth is a predictor of later criminal behavior, and that treatment programs for adult offenders have limited effectiveness, underscores the importance of addressing antisocial behavior before it results in criminality. Of the numerous approaches which have been used to address childhood antisocial behavior one of the most well-researched interventions is social skills training for children. This meta-analysis* examines the overall effectiveness of social-skills training programs for children in elementary and secondary school.

Research Questions
Are child skills training programs effective in preventing antisocial behavior?

Research Design

  • Number of Studies Included | 84
  • Number of Subjects | 16,723
  • Years Spanned | 1977-2000

Research Subjects

  • Students demonstrating antisocial behavior tendencies or having other risk factors were the most common research subjects, comprising more that three-quarters of studies.
  • The remaining programs were universal prevention programs.

Age/Grade of Subjects
Four to eighteen years old. Almost 80% of participants were in elementary school and younger than twelve years old.

Specified Disability
Students who exhibited antisocial behavior or were considered at-risk for behavioral problems.


  • All participants took part in social skills training programs aimed primarily at preventing antisocial behavior.
  • The majority (approximately 85%) of interventions were based on a cognitive and/or behavioral model of social learning.
  • The remaining programs used methods such as counseling, psychotherapy or intensive care.

Duration Intervention
Interventions ranged in duration from less than 10 sessions to 30 sessions. Most programs lasted between one and four months.


  • Despite a wide range of effect sizes including many in the negative range, the majority were positive, meaning the treated groups showed better results on average than participants who received no intervention.
  • Cognitive-behavioral approaches that address both students social behavior patterns and their underlying problematic modes of thinking were the most studied and showed the highest effect sizes in follow-up studies of reduction in anti-social behavior.
  • Neither the length of the intervention nor the number of sessions in it had a significant impact on student outcomes.

Combined Effects Size

  1. The average effect size* after the intervention was d = 0.38
  2. The average effect size for follow-up at a later time was 0.28
  3. Behavioral programs showed the highest effect on social skills (d =0.55)
  4. Cognitive programs showed the highest effect on social-cognitive skills (d=0.49)
  5. Cognitive-behavioral programs had the highest effect sizes for follow-up measures of antisocial behavior (d=0.62)

The effectiveness of child social skills interventions found in this meta-analysis was small but robust and leads to the conclusion that cognitive-behavioral programs are effective when implemented well with groups of children identified as having or being at-risk for behavioral problems.

It is worth noting that most of the studies in this meta-analysis were based on small samples and used short follow-up periods after the interventions. Therefore, it is recommend that more well-controlled studies using larger samples and examining the effectiveness of interventions after longer follow-up periods are needed.


* Terms Defined

Antisocial | A description for behavior that violates accepted norms, rules, standards, or understandings of society, or a person who exhibits such behavior.

Effect size (ES or d) | A statistical calculation, often represented as ES or d, that measures the impact of an intervention. An effect size below d = 0.20 suggests that a treatment did not have a significant effect. An effect size of d = 0.20 is considered small or low; an effect size of d = 0.50 is considered moderate; an effect size of d = 0.80 or above is large.

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