“With disruptions resulting from the pandemic, I worry that schools want to play ‘catch up’ rather quickly and … undermine [children’s] social and emotional learning and mental health,” said Chin Reyes, a developmental scientist at Yale and co-author of the study “All children experienced stress and disruptions — some significantly more than others. And not just the children, but also the teachers.”

Published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, the research focused on Ohio’s Whole Child Matters program, in which early-childhood mental health consultants make at least six visits to preschool classrooms to help educators develop positive relationships with children. Fifty-one classrooms were randomly assigned to participate in either the program or a control group.

The results showed that teachers who work with consultants feel a greater sense of control over challenging situations with children, a key finding since “expulsion is largely a teacher decision,” wrote Reyes and co-author Walter Gilliam, a professor of child psychiatry and psychology at Yale.

The “target children” — those who were getting in trouble — showed improvements in social-emotional skills, such as greater independence and ability to self-calm. The same improvements were seen in the children’s peers, adding to Gilliams’s 2007 findings on a similar program in Connecticut.

The Ohio study builds on Gilliam’s 2005 research, which found expulsion rates among preschoolers exceeded those of K-12 students, especially for boys and children of color.

Federal data confirmed those trends in 2014, showing Black children made up 18 percent of preschool enrollment but accounted for almost half of those suspended at least once — a cycle that data shows leads to later discipline problems and contributes to what has been described as the “preschool-to-prison pipeline.”

Read the full article about preschoolers' mental health by Linda Jacobson at The 74.