Welcome to our COMMUNITY BLOG! Throughout the year we will feature information, updates, and resources from the people who work with our children in our community.
This post comes from Linda Flach, Early Childhood Consultant working with the Parent Child Resource Center located in Derby. Linda talks about the importance of children being socially and emotionally ready for school, what this looks like and how you can help them.
When we think about children being ready for kindergarten, we often think: Do they know their name, the alphabet, sounds for letters, numbers and counting, etc. But kindergarten teachers tell us that it is just as important to children’s success that they be able to wait their turn, ask for help if they need it, manage disappointments, interact and work things out with their classmates. Often the social and emotional aspects of being ready for school are not considered, or are thought to be something that children automatically develop. Some children do learn from their environment the skills needed to get along in a group of students. Some do learn emotional recognition and control without much intervention. However we do our children a disservice if we expect them to learn the social and emotional skills needed to succeed without adult guidance.
So what is social and emotional development? Simply put, it is the ability to experience and manage a range of emotions, the ability to form good relationships and get along with others. These are life skills, we don’t just need them for school. So let us think about what these skills look like.
Ben enters a classroom for the first time. It’s scary and exciting and there are lots of other kids. Mommy kisses him goodbye and though he is sad and scared he takes the teacher’s offered hand and goes to join the others. He has just demonstrated that he has trust in the adults. He trusts his mom enough to separate from her readily even though he would rather she not leave. He trusts the adult he had been left with to care for him. He has just demonstrated one of his life skills- the ability to connect. The positive relationships that he has had during his life have prepared him to continue creating connections with his teacher and peers.
Later another little child is given directions to wash hands for snack. She follows the instructions, guided through the process by the teacher’s words and perhaps pictures of the steps of hand washing above the sink. She then goes to the seat as directed by the teacher. She has just demonstrated the ability to follow instructions. Listening and learning to following routines is also a life skill, a social skill. Many rules and routines will be part of the classroom experience.
Jimmy wants the book read that he brought from home. The teacher chooses to read another book instead. Jimmy is disappointed and a tear comes to his eye. He asks if she can read it another time. Jimmy has just demonstrated self -control. No tantrum, though sad he controls his emotions. Self -regulation being one skill he has demonstrated and it is a difficult skill to master indeed. Problem solving being another skill he has just demonstrated. He looked for a solution to the problem of not having his book read today. Jimmy also communicates with the teacher. Communication being a very important social skill.
The teacher sees the tear in Jimmy’s eye and recognizes his sadness. She agrees to read his book later. She has demonstrated a skill. Recognition of the cues to others emotions is part of emotional literacy. We do want our children to learn to recognize their own emotions and that of others. We want them to act appropriately, expressing their emotions with words and responding to the emotions and needs of others with caring.
Patty approaches two peers who are studying shells with magnifying glasses. She asks politely if she can join them. They say no because there are only two magnifying glasses. She asks if they can let her know when one of them is done so she can have a turn. They agree. Patty has just shown that she can ask to join play appropriately, that she can handle disappointment (being told no), and can problem solve (asking to be informed when she can have a turn). Patty is also an effective communicator.
Not all our children will come to kindergarten as capable as these youngsters. But as the parents and adults who care for our children we owe it to them to help them learn the skills shown here. So what can we do?
Second we can role model handling our emotions in appropriate ways. Teaching them the coping skills that help us deal with our strong emotions. Things like taking several slow deep breaths, counting to ten, imagining a pleasant scene, tensing and relaxing muscles, and using words to express our emotions in tones that are in control. We can talk about emotions and we can acknowledge them. Emotions are not good or bad, they are a part of us. It is how we handle our strong emotions that can be acceptable or unacceptable behavior. We can discuss with our children the emotions that are present in the books we read with them, the shows they watch and the people that are in their lives. Telling a child, “I know you are angry because the baby knocked down your blocks. You really worked hard on that tower.” can go a long way in helping the child understand his own feelings and that you understand. And if you remain calm and help the child regain calm, perhaps helping to rebuild the tower, you have aided in the child’s developing ability to gain control after an emotional upset.
Another area of needed skill development is in the area of friendship skills. Sharing, taking turns, using kind words, asking to join play. These are all things children must learn. Again nothing teaches like a good example. Help your child become a problem solver, a person who seeks solutions rather than blame. We can do that by modeling. We have a problem. Let’s identify it and then seek some solution. If there is no solution then let’s consider what can we do to make the situation more tolerable.
Small children often feel powerless. Let’s help give them the power to succeed socially and emotionally. It’s a superpower.
Submitted by Linda Flach, ECCP Early Childhood Consultant at the Lower Naugatuck Valley Parent Child Resource Center