Whether we admit it or not, we put emphasis on our child’s academic skills and use it as a gauge for how smart they are and as a predictor of their future success. We are overjoyed when they learn to talk, read, and count at an early age. As one of our articles said, “when it comes to matters about children, one will only get a room’s avid attention when you talk about how to make children smart, rather than happy.”
The thing is, however, it is a person’s character and social skills that have been proven as a better driver for success rather than academic skills.
“Emotional intelligence — defined as the ability to manage one's own emotions and relate well with others — will be a crucial factor throughout your child's life in his or her eventual academic and career success,” Dr. Laura Markham, a psychologist and parenting expert, writes in an article on Aha! Parenting.
A study published in 2015 found that the social skills observed in kindergarten students showed significant correlation with well-being at age 25.
Whether they were advanced readers or came from a rich or poor family, kindergarteners who demonstrated higher levels of social competence were more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, be employed, and were less likely to commit crime than those with lower levels of competence.
“Social competence encompasses both the ability to complete tasks and manage responsibilities and effective skills for handling social and emotional experiences,” write the study’s authors.
Nurturing your child’s emotional and social competencies can be achieved in a number of ways. Here are some of them:
1. Let them play with others. Social skills “build the foundation for children to develop friendships and engage in successful, positive interactions with others,” says local child psychologist Dr. Sabrina Tan. It includes learning to negotiate, solve problems, take turns, and experiment. A child who knows how to socialize well and has proper etiquette will know how to “share his toys and play fairly with others,” she explains.
It’s important to find kids that are your child’s age. Take him to the park or playground or schedule playdates. You may also encourage unstructured play where the kids are supervised by adults but have the freedom to play and interact as they like.
2. Allow them to solve problems on their own. Our instinct as parents is to help and protect our children whenever they face difficulty, but we should learn to loosen the reins and allow our kids to find solutions on their own. The more they think, become frustrated, and try out different ways of doing things, the more they become an “expert” at figuring things out on their own many times, writes psychologist Ma. Araceli Balajadia-Alcala in an article for SmartParenting.com.ph.
Of course, you can always provide support — ask your child to describe the problem, brainstorm solutions and let him try one out. Not only are you nurturing his social skills, you are also teaching him about independence and resilience. You are teaching him that mistakes are a part of life, and that every failure is an opportunity for learning.
3. Help him deal with his emotions and identify his feelings. Children who are empathetic can share another person's feelings and respond accordingly. To develop this, look out for your child’s emotional cues and name the emotions he’s giving off. Say, for example, “I think you’re happy because your smile is so big!”
You can also read books together so you can point out what book characters are feeling — “He’s angry!” or “She’s disappointed.” Stories are a great way for your kids to reflect on emotions from a distance since they are not the ones who are feeling it. They are not overwhelmed and can think about how to apply and understand these emotions in real life.
4. Teach them self-control. It’s normal for toddlers to have little self-control as the part of the brain controls it (the prefrontal cortex) isn’t fully developed yet. But as he grows older, or by the time he reaches preschool age, this part of the brain should also mature. For that to develop, you’ll need practice — lots of it.
Try movement games like "Stop Dance" or "Pepsi-7 Up" where kids need to quickly shift gears and control their impulses to move. You can also do pretend play, where kids are able to choose a character, make up a story, and take turns acting. By pretending to be someone else, your child can use his imagination to think of others perspectives and act as another would instead of just following his impulse.
5. Encourage him to be helpful. It’s important for your child to feel that they are in some way contributing to the betterment of society, no matter how young they are. This will also develop their sense of empathy, where he is able to look beyond himself and recognize the needs of others.
Compliment helpful behaviors so you encourage him to continue helping and let him accomplish simple tasks like taking his dishes to the sink, putting his toys away, or making his bed.
At the same time, show your gratitude to your own helpers at home so your child sees the value of service. Even when you go out of the house, saying ‘thank you’ to baggers at the grocery store or waiters at the restaurant will also teach him the importance of serving others.