Entering primary school can be a challenging transitional period, and it is important to ensure that children have adequate school readiness skills to manage this transition.
Over the past few years, besides academic readiness skills, growing attention has been focused on social-emotional development for children entering Primary school. This coincides with increasing awareness of research indicating that social-emotional difficulties can lead to a variety of negative outcomes, such as emotional difficulties or poorer academic achievement.
The opposite effect is also true; increased social-emotional competencies are linked with school success and general positive life outcomes.
See also: How to raise a child who loves learning
As children enter primary school, they are faced with increased demands for well-regulated and goal-directed activities such as complying with school rules and following group instructions. This requires the child to apply self-regulation skills, and inhibit behaviours that might impact their ability to participate in class. Children are also required to make friends by initiating and sustaining positive relationships or even display interpersonal problem solving skills when conflict arises.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has outlined five core social and emotional competencies that are important foundations for a child’s well-being in primary school.
The 5 competencies are:
1. Self-awareness: The ability to identify one’s emotions and thoughts, and how they influence behaviours. The ability to recognize one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence to face challenging situations.
2. Self-management: The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts and behaviours, whilst working towards personal and academic goals. This includes emotional regulation and impulse control skills.
3. Social Awareness: The ability to emphasize and display perspective taking skills. This includes respecting people who may look and act differently from themselves.
4. Relationships skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships. This includes knowing how to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, negotiate conflict successfully, and knowing when to seek for help if required.
5. Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interaction. This includes the ability to identify, analyse and problem solve when faced with interpersonal conflict.
These five social-emotional competencies should be viewed in context of the child’s developmental age. During the early primary school years, children can be expected to display the following behaviours:
• Able to identify emotions and display basic self-regulation skills when angry or scared
• Be a member of a group: share, listen, take turns, cooperate, negotiate disputes, be considerate and helpful
• Initiate social interactions
• Resolve interpersonal conflict without fighting (e.g. compromise)
• Show empathy towards their peers
Parents can gain an understanding of their child’s social-emotional strengths and weakness by observing their child’s development at home or by working collaboratively with their child’s preschool teacher.
The home environment provides the first step into emotional and social development as children learn to manage strong emotions like anger or fear, and navigate around interpersonal relationships such as siblings or other extended family members.
The preschool environment provides a supportive setting where children have opportunities to practice emotional regulation and social skills with their peers.
For example, learning how to take turns, share, and play cooperatively with their peers. It would be helpful to speak with your child’s preschool teacher to gain a better perspective of how your child functions in the school setting.
There are many ways that children develop social-emotional skills. This can be through explicit teaching of social-emotional skills, or by observing and following the behaviours of those closest to them.
Here are strategies to support your child’s social-emotional development:
1. Be a role model
Children learn about emotions and how to express them appropriately by watching others, especially their main caregivers. Demonstrating calmness and staying in control of your own feelings provides a positive blueprint for your child to learn from. Showing children how you manage emotions helps them learn from your example. For example, saying ‘Sorry I got angry’ and showing how you make amends provides them with an example to learn from.
2. Listen and validate your child’s emotional experience
Acknowledging and naming the emotions your child is feeling helps them to identify their own feelings. For example, saying ‘It sounds like you’re very angry, would you like to tell me more?’ will encourage your child to share about his emotional experience.
3. Be aware of your nonverbal communication
Show an interest in your child’s emotional experience by having a positive facial expression, relaxed body posture, being at the same level as your child, and speaking in a calm tone. This communicates connection with your child’s emotional experience.
4. View emotions as teachable moments
Children learn how to manage emotions through practice, and it is important to view your child’s emotional experience as opportunities to teach your child how to manage overwhelming emotions such as anger or fear.
5. Set clear boundaries on inappropriate behaviours
It is normal to experience a range of emotions such as anger or sadness. However, there are inappropriate behaviours such as hurting others, hurting themselves, or destroying property. It is important to acknowledge all feelings, but not all behaviours are appropriate.
6. Scaffold social interactions without taking over
Children may initially require adult support and facilitation in new social situations. It would be helpful to problem solve and encourage your child to think through common social difficulties they encounter daily. Give them space to resolve their own social difficulties, but be ready to offer help if they require it.
7. Encourage perspective taking
Ask questions that encourage your child to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. For example, ‘How would you feel if…’. This helps children realize the impact of their behaviours on other people’s feelings, and encourages them to consider other people’s feelings.
8. Provide opportunities for practice
Arrange for play dates or expose your child to different social situations where they get to practice their social skills.
9. Focus on the positive
Encourage and acknowledge positive social behaviours when you catch your child displaying them. For example, when you see them sharing, taking turns, or showing empathy towards others
If there are additional concerns regarding your child’s social-emotional development for primary school, you can approach professionals such as psychologists to assess your child’s social-emotional competencies for school readiness. There is also social skills program available to provide explicit teaching and opportunities for your child to develop their social-emotional skills.
Contributed by Eliza Leong, Educational and Developmental Psychologist, Thomson Paediatric Centre, Child Development Centre
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