By Sabrina Rogers-Anderson
Sabrina is a writer, author and mother to three girls, an eight-year-old along with five-year-old twins. An expert in the beauty and struggles of parenthood, she shares her wisdom here.
Am I the only one who watches my children out of the corner of my eye at the park or at parties to make sure they’re not snatching another kid’s toy or eating an old piece of chewing gum they found on the ground?
I don’t have any reason to be paranoid – my daughters are generally well-mannered and don’t do anything to horrify me in public. But there’s always that fear lurking just below the surface that my children will be revealed to be unsocialised animals and everyone will point at me and scream, “Bad mother!”
OK, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but many of us parents worry that we’re not teaching our kids all the social skills they need to be prepared for school and thrive in life. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: early childhood educators are absolute PROS at enhancing children’s social and emotional development because they’ve received training in this area.
A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that children who attended centre-based child care were less likely to have high levels of emotional symptoms or peer relationship problems than those who didn’t. Attending centre-based care for more than one year had an especially protective effect against high levels of emotional or peer difficulties.
So, what are some of the social skills children learn at child care? Here are six of the most important ones…
How embarrassing is it when your child refuses to share any of their toys during a playdate? The more you try to sternly encourage them to hand over their beloved plaything to their friend, the more they dig their heels in. Sigh.
As with all social skills, the desire to share develops over time. At Headstart Early Learning Centres, educators gently and regularly encourage children to share toys and other resources with their peers. Some children are willing to share as young as age three, whereas others won’t master this skill until they start school.
Early childhood educators are constantly dreaming up new collaborative activities for children to tackle. From building a tower to baking muffins, children are always being asked to work with their peers to achieve a common goal.
One of my twins didn’t like to cooperate with anyone when she was younger. She’d often get cranky at her sisters and run off when they didn’t want to do things exactly her way. Since she’s been at child care and preschool, she’s become such an awesome team player. I’m so proud of her when she shows me the art and building projects she’s spent hours working on with her friends!
3. Good manners
Tired of repeating “What’s the magic word?” and “What do we say?” Leave it with the Headstart educators. They’ll remind your child how to be polite and respectful to their friends and teachers until it becomes an ingrained habit. Before you know it, your child will be saying, “Can I have a snack, please, Mummy?”
4. Emotional regulation
Have you ever watched your child’s educators in action? No matter how much chaos is happening around them, they manage to stay calm and poised. If a child says something rude, they’ll say, “Luca, that’s not a nice thing to say and it hurts my feelings. Please don’t say it again.” Rather than get angry, they describe how the child’s actions made them feel and what they’d like the child to do in the future.
Not only is it an impressive Jedi skill, it also serves a higher purpose. Research shows that modelling control over strong emotions is an effective way to teach children how to regulate their own emotions.
5. Social confidence
Not all social skills need to be learnt for the benefit of others. Social confidence is an important skill that children need to develop over time to help them feel secure and at ease in the world. Given the extended COVID lockdowns around the country, many parents are concerned that their children’s confidence in social situations isn’t what it should be due to lack of practice.
Headstart educators help children come out of their shells at their own pace. If your child tends to be more reserved, they’ll gently coax them into collaborative activities that spark their imagination. The interest-based curriculum means every child gets to follow their passions and work with other like-minded children to build their confidence in their abilities.
6. Holding a conversation
There are two cornerstones to an effective conversation: listening and responding. Some children might be great at listening, but struggle to formulate responses or disclose information about themselves. Others might want to do all the talking. Early childhood educators encourage children to listen and make eye contact when someone is talking and to speak when it’s their turn.
Social skills aren’t developed overnight – it’s a process that lasts a lifetime. But like so many aspects of raising children, it takes a village. So, leave them with their beloved Headstart educators and let them help you. They’d love nothing more than to help turn your sweet little caterpillar into a social butterfly.