Social Skill Development - Real Keys to Success After Preschool (Part 2)

Note: This is the second installment of a multi-part series. To read the first part, click on:

In today’s world where everyone is so focused on the producing evidence of development on paper, we need to be reminded that social growth is one of the primary goals of the preschool years.  The New Jersey Dept. of Education Preschool Teaching and Learning Standards lists Social/Emotional Development goals first.  They are listed before language arts literacy, math, science or any of the other more academic goals and well they should be.   Children cannot feel secure and confident enough to build upon other knowledge if they have not developed the social/emotional skills to become confident explorers and decision makers.

I had a professor who told us that when you work with 3 year old children, you are creating citizens.  He said that to my class more than 20 years ago and I still say it today to my staff members and other professionals when I teach.  Our most important role in early childhood education is to create citizens who can work together as a community as well as individually.  The creation of these citizens takes more thought and more time than nearly any other preschool skill.  The challenge before professionals and parents is that we are trying to bring together people who are entirely egocentric.   Young children cannot see the world from anyone’s point of view but their own.  They cannot empathize.  They cannot share without facilitation and they cannot cooperate without guidance.  The ability to have successful interactions will lay a foundation of both social and academic success.   You can help your young children to build important social skills.
  • Help young children to share by understanding what they can and cannot do without you.  Young children cannot share an item until they have fully possessed it.  The command to “play together” is unrealistic before at least they age of 4.  Each child has to have the toy before they can pass it to the next person.  Once that child has possessed it, then it can be passed back.  I often tell young children that sharing doesn’t mean “give it to me now.”  Sharing means that everyone will have time with the toy.   Watch preschool children carefully and you will see that when young children seem to be using a toy together, they are really taking turns feeling as if each of them is in possession of the whole item or its parts.  Remember that you also cannot simply walk away after the first child passes a toy to the other.  You may need to stay with them to tell them when to pass it and when they can have it back.
  • Non-verbal communication is a key to social success.  Non-verbal communication includes not only facial expressions and body language but also respecting personal boundaries.  Studies show that children who can successfully express and receive non-verbal communication will have more social success throughout their lives than those who cannot.  Cartoon characters and puppets cannot teach children about the importance of eye contact or the expression on someone’s face when they are happy, angry or afraid.   Children also need to learn that every person has a boundary that is “owned.”   Social interactions will be more successful if they do not invade other people’s boundaries without permission.   Unfortunately, very little time is spent actively teaching these important social skills.   Spend time with your young children pointing out how someone looks when feeling different emotions.  Teach them to respect other children’s space.  For more information about teaching personal space go to:
  • Give your children the words to use when negotiating play.  If a child tries to tattle on a friend, empower the child by asking what he/she can say to get the result that is desired.  Adults should intervene as little as possible.  If your child wants something that someone else has, teach your child to say, “May I have that, please?” instead of taking action yourself.  Children actually do not know what to say without you. 
  • Young children are egocentric and, therefore, not empathetic.  Explain social situations from their own point of view.  When young children push, hit or grab a toy, they are using that action as a means to an end and cannot relate to how the other child feels.  Simply saying “You will hurt him” will have very little impact.  You need to start a conversation about similar behaviors by saying “What does it feel like when someone pushes/hits/takes from you?  Does it hurt?  Does it make you mad or sad?”  Young children must consider feelings from their own point of view first. 
  • Apologizing for a social misstep days later or even simply with just the words, “I’m sorry” teaches your child nothing.  Children need to be able to say, “I won’t hit/push/grab again.”  They need to say it immediately after the event so they fully remember what happened and can end the incident.  None of us like carrying bad feelings for days and the same holds true for children.  If something happens at preschool, speak with your child that day but do not force an apology 3 days later.  No doubt the teachers already handled it.  Let it be over.

Guiding your preschooler’s social interactions takes time, patience and thought.  The effort you make will help your children to more easily negotiate more complicated social interactions as the years go on.

Coming soon – Part 3:  Emotional Development - Building Self-Esteem

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
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