University of Illinois
In this Chat, Lilian Katz discusses ways of defining social competence in the early years, provides an overview of what the research indicates must be achieved in the early years, and indicates ways that adults—parents and teachers—can support and strengthen this important aspect of young children's development. Questions answered in this Chat include, “What social skills should a child have by the age of 2 or 3 or 4?” “What can be done to encourage a shy and withdrawn child to interact with others?” “As a teacher/parent/caregiver, how do I know if a child's behavior requires some additional professional intervention? Are there some "red flags" of behavior for children this age?” “What are some things a teacher, caregiver, or parent can do to promote healthy social development?”
Introduction to the Topic
The discussion will include ways of defining social competence in the early years, an overview of what the research indicates must be achieved in the early years, and ways that adults-parents and teachers-can support and strengthen this important aspect of young children's development
An accumulating body of evidence indicates that unless a minimal level of social competence is achieved by roughly about the age of six, a child is likely to be at risk later on in several ways. For example, children who do not overcome early difficulties with peers are more likely than their successful peers to do poorly in school and to drop out of school. Research suggests that they may experience problems in adulthood with employment and family relationships.
Social competence in the early years is indicated by a child's ability to have one or two friends. Friends are peers about whom a child really cares-cares enough even to continue the relationship after a squabble. The capacity for friendship should not be confused with popularity. It is not necessary for children to be popular-that is, liked by lots of other children.
Adults can help children learn the processes of initiating and maintaining relationships with peers in many ways. For example, they can make suggestions about effective ways to approach other children and compare them to ineffective ways. For example, when a child approaches others by referring to himself-e.g., referring to herself or himself by saying something like "I can build a bigger block tower than that!" instead of referring to the other child by saying something like "What are you going to do next?" the child is more likely to be welcomed. This example of learning to use references to the "other" rather than to the "self" is a life skill that must be learned early.
Adults can also help children by encouraging them to be "experimental" as they approach difficult situations. If a child complains to her parent or teacher that someone will not give her or him a turn with a tricycle, the adults can ask the child-in a positive tone-"Well, what have you tried so far?" In this way, the adult teaches the child that (1) in tight situations we can try things, (2) there may not be one strategy for all cases, and (3) experimenting might help in many such predicaments. Often when a young child answers the questions "What have you tried so far?" the adult learns how the child understands how social relationships work and is in a better position to help the child clarify the issues.
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