If you were to Google “what my child should know before starting kindergarten” you would find yourself wading through a barrage of checklists and readiness tests. They cover everything from colors and numbers to basic reading and writing. It feels like a lot and seems WAY more extensive than the skills I brought to the kindergarten table “back in my day.”
It seems like more and more emphasis is being placed on younger children to perform academically. With a system that values academic milestones, what value do social skills have? As it turns out, a lot.
Children with better social competence in kindergarten tend to perform better overall into adolescence and even adulthood. Effective communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution have a significantly positive effect on children’s overall success. They tend to form friendships easier and have higher self-confidence. Those kids with stronger social skills are more likely to achieve higher academic scores throughout their school years. With mounting benefits, it seems that your Kindergartener’s social skills matter more than their academics.
What is social competence?
Social competence refers to those skills that allow us to communicate effectively and form positive relationships with others. It involves being able to recognize emotions, in addition to healthy interpersonal skills. A solid foundation includes:
- Being able to negotiate
- Taking turns or sharing
- Taking and interacting with other children
- Having empathy for others
- Being able to talk through conflict
- Recognizing emotions
- Emotional regulation
- Practicing teamwork
- Offering help
- Having self-confidence and independence
- Listening to others’ perspective
Preschool-age children are not going to master all of these skills 100% of the time. Even adults have issues with them at times. However, the more practice and social interaction your child has, the better they will grasp these skills.
Help Promote Their Social Development
Children need opportunities to learn these skills. Here are some ways that you can encourage your child’s healthy social development.
- Unstructured Play
Most parents of younger children have heard that play is vital to their child’s development. Unstructured play involves letting your child explore and interact with the world around them with their own direction. Classes and sports serve their purposes, but it’s essential to let your child’s imagination take the lead. Think of this as supervision without instruction. You can provide the space, toys, or initial ideas but then your child can experiment and create from there.
While children certainly learn a great deal while playing on their own, when they interact with other children, that’s where the magic happens. When children play together, they often create games or storylines. To successfully play, this often involves (unconsciously) sharing resources, negotiation, teamwork and experimentation in crafting the “rules.” Children learn and develop this organically. Think about it, don’t you learn more (not just memorizing but truly understanding) when you are participating in a fun and engaging way?
- Exposure to Social Situations
As mentioned previously, the best way to learn social skills is exposure to other children. This does not have to be regularly planned playdates (although that’s perfectly acceptable as well). You’ll often encounter other children at parks, museums or community centers.
- Guide them through issues
Many parents don’t want to see their children struggle. This is understandable. However, you should allow your child to start working through their problems. Instead of rushing to “fix” things for them, be their guide through the problem-solving process. Ask them questions that allow them to make connections and come to conclusions on their own.
- Failing is part of learning
Nobody is going to get it right 100% of the time. That’s why we need to allow our children to fail. It’s not going to be something traumatic that haunts them for the rest of their life. Instead, it may make them better thinkers and problem solvers.
- Point out emotions
The first step in emotional regulation is being able to recognize emotions. Emotions are complex. We all have them, even little kids. The difference is that (most) adults can identify their emotions, control them and then respond appropriately. With preschoolers, they’re still learning.
You can help them by talking about what they are feeling or how they think someone else might be feeling in a particular situation. Talk about context and facial expressions. One of the best ways to do this is through books. It’s a lot less stressful than trying to point things out during a moment of anger or frustration, at least at first.