Years ago, when I lived in Pittsburgh PA, I received a last-minute invitation to join friends for a whitewater rafting excursion. To say this put me a bit outside of my comfort zone, would be a definite understatement. As if my hesitation alone hadn’t been enough, it recently rained quite a bit and the water was much higher and more turbulent than usual. While the guide began Pre-teaching the safety precautions, I mentally reviewed his words and we headed out.  Once we hit our very first pocket of rapids, I went flying out of the boat into some rough water. I followed the safety precaution .plan; the guide plucked me out of the water to the security of the raft.

As I look back on this experience, this worst-case scenario was the best thing that could have happened to me – why?  I felt empowered – I knew what to expect and had a plan to handle the situation. Despite the unpredictability of the water, I truly enjoyed the remainder of my trip down the rapids. As you can see, I remember it so many years later. It was an experience that truly taught me the power of anticipating what could occur and having a plan in place.


What is Pre-teaching?

Pre-teaching is a social tool that can provide a sense of control for everyone; from preschoolers to adults.  Pre-teaching utilizes executive functioning skills (planning) and some social prediction (If I say or do ___ , then ___ could happen).

Pre-teaching involves the following:

  1. Looking at what you expect to happen in a situation.
  2. Predicting what may be challenging about the situation.
  3. Formulating a plan; choosing social or emotional tools to help you with the potential challenges.

What makes Pre-teaching Helpful?

While pre-teaching can be particularly helpful for children and teens who struggle with anxiety, are on the autism spectrum or are pretty rigid (e.g. have difficulty with change), most students can benefit from this social tool.

When life feels uncertain, our anxiety can increase. Having an idea of what to expect combats that dreaded uncertainty by giving us a sense of control. Thinking ahead about how to handle challenges and considering, in advance, the calming or social tools that could be helpful, empowers us by helping us feel more prepared.

In schools, pre-teaching is helpful for changes in schedules (a planned substitute teacher), field trips, etc. It also works wonders for activities that students find stressful (test taking, giving oral presentations, trying out for band, theater productions, debate club and more.)

On the home front, pre-teaching can help children who are hesitant to try new experiences, such as returning to face-to-face school after distance learning, trying out for a new extra-curricular activity, or spending a night at a friend’s house for the first time. Pre-teaching is also helpful if you know there will be an anticipated change, like how the holidays, or celebrations, may look different this year due to the pandemic.


Tips for Pre-teaching (Parents or Teachers)

Pre-teaching looks different depending on how old the child is. However, general guidelines include a discussion of the following:

  • What to expect
  • What could be challenging?
  • Calming tools that could be used in the situation (deep breathing, grounding, positive self- talk: “I can do this.”
  • What to do if help is needed
  • What social skills can be used to be successful

Pre-teaching with younger children can include pictures of calming tools. For older children, you can focus on examples of positive self- talk (“I can do hard things”) or maintaining a growth mindset (“It’s Ok if I can’t do it yet.”).


Printable Pre-teaching Guides

You can help your students or children feel empowered and in control by weaving Pre-teaching into your day to day life. This way, they can feel better prepared to handle life’s turbulent waters and be better equipped to relax and enjoy the ride. Social Bridges is here to help you with Pre-teaching if this skill is new for you and your family. Please see below for the Social Bridges Pre-teaching guides that are used in our curriculum:

Pre-K & K Pre-teaching Guide

Grades 3-5 Pre-teaching Guide

Middle & High School Pre-teaching Guide

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Written by Carol Miller, LCSW

Edited by Danielle Bentz, MA

Photo by Lindsey Erin on Unsplash