Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies (PATHS®)

Program Goals

The Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies (PATHS®) curriculum is a program that promotes emotional and social competencies and reduces aggression and behavior problems in elementary school–aged children, while simultaneously enhancing the educational process in the classroom.

Program Theory

The PATHS® curriculum is based on the ABCD (Affective–Behavioral–Cognitive–Dynamic) model of development, which places primary importance on the developmental integration of affect, behavior, and cognitive understanding as they relate to social and emotional competence. A basic premise is that a child’s coping, as reflected in his or her behavior and internal regulation, is a function of emotional awareness, affective–cognitive control, behavioral skills, social–cognitive understanding, and interaction with the environment.

Key Personnel

The PATHS® curriculum is designed for use by educators and counselors in a multiyear, universal prevention model that concentrates primarily on school and classroom settings, but also includes information and activities for use with parents. Ideally, the program will be initiated at the start of schooling and continued through sixth grade. Teachers receive training in a 2- to 3-day workshop and in biweekly meetings with the curriculum consultant.

Program Components

The PATHS® curriculum contains comprehensive lessons (36 to 52, depending on grade) that seek to provide children with knowledge and skills in three major conceptual domains: 1) Self-Control, 2) Feelings and Relationships, and 3) Social Problem-Solving.

For improving self-control, young children are taught the “Turtle Technique,” where they learn to stop and think before reacting to a situation. Older children use a Control Signals Poster. Emotional literacy includes teaching children to identify and label feelings, express feelings, assess the intensity of feelings, manage feelings, and understand the difference between feelings and behaviors. Younger children use Feeling Face cards throughout the day, while older children utilize such learning tools as a Feelings Dictionary or Feelings Thesaurus. Social problem solving includes age-appropriate lessons as well as Problem Solving Groups for solving real classroom problems. Generalization techniques and suggestions are included for use throughout the day. Handouts for parents are also provided.

The units also contain lessons that promote self-awareness, nonverbal and verbal communication skills, and a positive classroom atmosphere. A newly revised version was published in 2011 – 2012 that has a separate curriculum for each grade level from Preschool to Grade 6.

Intervention ID

3 to 12


Study 1

Peer-Rated Aggression

The evaluation by Pennsylvania State’s Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group (1999) found that children in the intervention group were rated by their peers as less aggressive as well as less hyperactive and disruptive. However, there were no significant effects on prosocial behavior and “most liked” ratings from peers.

Teacher-Rated Conduct Problems

No differences in teacher-rated conduct problems were found between the intervention and comparison groups.

Observer-Rated Classroom Atmosphere

Intervention classrooms were rated as having a significantly more positive atmosphere, a higher level of interest and enthusiasm, and a greater ability to stay focused than comparison group classrooms. Students in intervention classrooms were rated as better able to express feelings appropriately than those in comparison classrooms.

Study 2

Self-Control/Problem Solving

Kam, Greenberg, and Kusche (2004) found that no significant differences between the PATHS® intervention group and the comparison group in social problem solving. However, children in the intervention group displayed a significant increase in the percentage of solutions that were nonconfrontational, indicating self-control (15 percent versus 8 percent).

Affective Vocabulary

There was a significant difference between the intervention and control groups in the size of vocabulary of negative feelings in the expected direction. However, there was no significant difference in the size of the positive feelings vocabulary.

Social Competency

No differences in social competency were found between the intervention and comparison groups.

Child Mental Health

Teacher ratings of externalizing behavior decreased in the intervention group by a rate of 0.37 points and increased in the comparison group by a rate of 0.72 points per year. Teacher ratings of internalizing behavior increased in the intervention group and comparison groups. However, the increase in the intervention group (0.38 points per year) was significantly lower than the increase of the comparison group (1.83 points per year). Self-rated child depression decreased significantly in the intervention group (3.7 points per year), compared with the comparison group (0.85 points per year).

Study 3

Emotional Knowledge

Domitrovich, Cortes, and Greenberg (2007) found that the intervention group scored significantly better than the comparison group on the Assessment of Children’s Emotions Scale—Accuracy, meaning children exposed to PATHS® had a larger receptive emotion vocabulary and were more accurate in identifying feelings. Intervention children also had significantly lower anger attribution bias scores. However, there were no significant group differences on measures of inhibitory control, attention, or problem solving.

Social Competence

The intervention group scored significantly better than the comparison group on measures of social competence. Teachers in the intervention classrooms rated their students as significantly more cooperative, emotionally aware, and interpersonally skilled than teachers in the comparison classrooms did. However, follow-up analyses suggest that the intervention effect of PATHS® was present for children with higher mean levels of verbal ability, but children in the intervention group with lower verbal ability were no different from comparison group children.

Teacher Report of Child

There were no significant differences on teachers’ ratings of externalizing behavior, but there were some significant effects observed on teachers’ ratings of internalizing behavior. Children exposed to PATHS® were significantly less likely to be described as withdrawn or lacking friends by their teachers at the end of the school year, compared with comparison children. At the more rural site, teachers rated intervention children as significantly less anxious than comparison children. However, there were no other significant differences on the teacher report of child outcomes.

Parent Report of Child

On the Head Start Competence Scale, parents of students in the intervention classrooms described their children as significantly more socially and emotionally competent than did parents of children in comparison classrooms. However, there were no significant differences on parents’ ratings of externalizing and internalizing behavior, or on any other parent report of child outcomes.

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