We all know it’s important to teach our children to share and to care for the feelings of others. Julie Forbes writes below what this could mean for our kids in the future, beyond just good manners, along with some actionable steps for those of us who feel like our kids could use some extra work in this area. I definitely took note.

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My little ones haven’t reached kindergarten yet, so I don’t even know if teachers hand out report cards in kindergarten.  But, if they do, I doubt I would have given it more than a passing glance.  An “S” in sharing can’t mean as much as an “A” in mathematics, right?  Turns out, it could mean even more.

A recent study published in American Journal of Public Health found a link between children’s social skills in kindergarten and their well-being in early adulthood.

The 20-year study found that children who were more likely to “share” or “be helpful” in kindergarten were also more likely to obtain higher education and hold full time jobs nearly two decades later. Students who lacked these “social competence” skills were more likely to face more negative outcomes by the age of 25, including substance abuse problems, challenges finding employment or run-ins with the law.

Janet Thompson is the director of the Early Childhood Lab School at University of California-Davis and has spent 30 years as an educator.  She says she’s not at all surprised, “that early social and emotional behavior indicates future success.”

Child Reading

How can you determine if your child is “socially competent?”  Thompson says to look for these three things in your child:

  1. They treat others with respect
  2. They treat others with kindness
  3. They care for property

If your child is lacking in these areas, don’t despair.  There is plenty of opportunity for growth throughout the years.  

“One of the most effective techniques I usually recommend is doing a lot of social role playing with you (the parent) primarily playing the role of a peer,” Thompson says.

This helps your child understand someone else’s perspective.  Ask simple questions like, “Huh, I wonder how he felt when A, B or C happened?”  Thompson says, “Just wonder together about something, rather than making a critical comment about it.  Then demonstrate what you would do.”

Thompson says parents can do this throughout the day, using a younger sibling in that role-playing scenario.  If your child takes a toy away from the baby, ask the older child, “how do you think that made the baby feel?” instead of saying, “Don’t take that away from her!”

This role-playing exercise helps children understand the consequences of their actions.  Another way to incorporate this into your daily routine is at story time.  After you’ve finished reading a book, ask your child how each of the characters may have felt in specific situations.

Thompson says the key in teaching your child to be respectful is to make sure rules and consequences don’t sound and feel arbitrary.  “A child needs to make sense of a rule or consequence to have it affect change in his behavior.”  You not only need to state the rule, but also the why.

“If it seems arbitrary or capricious or seems to be coming out of the anger of the parent or authority figure, it won’t make a difference,” Thompson says.  She continues, “It will generate fear.  It sometimes generates the desire to avoid that kind of punishment next time, but that can easily include hiding and lying as a child gets older, figuring out work-arounds, rather than incorporating the principles and values that you think you’re teaching.”

Thompson says some researchers think that considering the perspective of someone else before you act is the crux of developing pro-social skills.  And, according to this study, perhaps its the secret to future success.

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