Social Skills go to Kindergarten!
In addition to the need for vocabulary, language development and fine motor skills, children need their social skills in good working order when they go to kindergarten. In addition to the academic and intellectual skills to help your child prepare, it is a good idea to make sure your child has had some social experiences and knows how to use these social skills at school. I do not believe that children who have not attended a preschool program are at a disadvantage when entering kindergarten. Preschool is a personal choice and is not universally available. Children who have not had social experiences prior to kindergarten, however, may have difficulty transitioning to the group setting and the social demands of school. Experiences playing with other children in their home or in day care or with play groups are very helpful for learning interpersonal skills, how to share, how to play together, how to recognize and respond to someone else’s feelings, and how to communicate with other children and with adults. It is also helpful for a child to have already learned to follow directions, especially when those directions come from an adult other than the parent. Even kindergarten is quite structured these days, and children aren’t really at liberty to do “their own thing”, so parents should encourage a variety of social situations (prior to starting kindergarten) where your child has to follow the direction, and redirection, of another adult.
Children are also going to need independent self help skills as they enter school. The child needs to be able to take off coats and boots, as well as dress in their outdoor clothes, manage their lunch, toilet themselves, and solve simple day to day problems as they arrive. With a classroom of 20 or more children, a teacher cannot dress, toilet, and feed every child in the room. So it is important to assure that your child can manage these daily living skills for himself. The child’s ability to do so reinforces her newly developing self-assuredness.
One issue that often arises for parents is separating from their child on those first days of school. The child may respond with tears and clinging to the parent, and then parent responds with cuddling, tears of their own, and “emotional support.” This can become an ongoing daily struggle because the parent’s response becomes a reinforcement for the child’s apparent anxiety. I recommend that the parent put the child on the bus or walk to the school doors and kiss goodbye and walk away. Children are incredibly resilient and tend to bounce back quickly when the adults don’t engage. This may sound harsh, but this is a positive step for your child’s independence, and cues to your child your faith in their ability to handle their emotions and the school environment. It is often helpful to separate your own feelings about letting go from the child’s feelings. Often the difficult separation is actually the parent’s issue. It is hard as a parent to surrender your prized spot in a child’s life, to go from being their whole world, to sharing the child with other adults and children. We have all grappled with this transition and there is a lot of support out there for parents when their kids go off to school (or college!!) so in addition to preparing your child’s social skills for kindergarten, don’t forget to prepare yourself with extra social support.
What to Do:
- Go to story hour at the library
- Go to playgroups
- Practice good manners
- Talk about the feelings of others
- Learn about sharing or taking turns (some prefer to focus on the latter)
- Learn “no means no” as it applies to other children’s limits
- Practice self care (dressing, toileting, feeding)
- Practice acts of independence
- Invite same age friends over to play (or go somewhere to make friends)
- Invite adult friends over to have social time with your family