One of the most unfortunate misconceptions adults have about intelligence in children stems from the image of the child sitting all alone buried in a book, doodling on paper, or hunched over a math textbook. The thinking is that the child who is commonly isolated from others and immersed in reading or drawing or problem solving is a foreshadowing of high academic performance. Another fantastical image is that of the young (grade school) computer programmer, who is engaged in some sophisticated creation, a breakthrough product that will mean billions for their child.
Gloating over such images and conceptions of lonely yet concentrated isolation completely overlook the importance of social interaction and social development during the early childhood and early elementary years.
Another misconception is that the teaching of social skills, or what many educators today will call “social/emotional learning” or SEL, is merely a branch of learning designed for a fragment of the population who are exhibiting behavioral problems. This is false thinking. A prevalent mindset among parents is that SEL detracts from core general studies learning time. Social/emotional learning is for everyone, and it is all about optimizing each child’s learning across the board.
Why are social skills important? Do they really portend academic success later on? How do we know if my preschooler is developing the kind of social skills that matter, or is school time just day care time, with little attention given to developing these essential life skills? What are the warning signs that indicate my child may have a more serious condition or should be assessed by a psychiatrist?
Importance Of Social Skills For Cognitive Growth And Emotional Development During Preschool And Early Elementary Years:
- Social Interaction through Play Stimulates Neurons in Prefrontal Cortex
- Social Skills Develop Negotiating Skills
- Social Play Accelerates Language Development
- Proper Guidance toward Social Skills Development Aids in Emotional Self-Regulation
- Social Skills Enhances Awareness of Others and Promotes Empathy and Cooperation
- Good Social Learning Can Protect Against Being Bullied
- Social Skills Builds Confidence and thus Willingness to take on Challenges
- Academic Success in Middle School Correlates with Social Skills Success in Early Elementary Grades
- Social Engagement for Children can Ameliorate the Impact of Toxic Stress like Exposure to Poverty, Violence, and Neglect
- Social Skills Development Can Engender a Positive Approach to Learning
What You Will See In Schools That Promote Social/Emotional Learning:
- Teachers Who Care For Their Students by Making Their Classrooms Places of Comfort and Safety
- Students Are Given Opportunities to Share/Articulate Their Moods or Feelings, such as Sharing Their Day’s Highlights and Lowlights
- Teachers Who Factor Into Their Lessons Some Element of Diversity Awareness, Service Learning, or Contemporary Relevance to Students’ Lives
- Teachers Who Cultivate a Sense of Belonging and Connection
- Activities that Promote Collaboration and Cooperation
- Schools that Incorporate Joyful/Fun Experiences and Celebrations
- School Tone Whereby Greeting and Welcoming Visitors is Commonplace
- Classroom Strategies that Include Mindfulness Moments or “Brain Breaks”
- Schools Who Manage Teachers so that there are Daily Check-Ins with Each Student
- Schools Who Have Adopted Formal SEL Programs, such as those that Teach the Core S & E Skills from com: Goal-Setting, Problem Solving, Resilience Skills, Optimistic Thinking, Character Strength, Emotional Intelligence, Self Confidence and Social Connections
Some Indicators That A Professional Assessment And Intervention May Be Necessary:
- Language and/or Speech Delays
- Hearing Issues: Kids Who Have Several Ear Infections
- Trouble Getting Along With Others
- Difficulty Maintaining Eye Contact
- Issues Beyond Age 3 with a Parent Being Briefly Absent
- Exhibits Frustration or Petulance Frequently
- Unresponsiveness When Name is Called
- Frequently Retreating to One’s Own World
- Is Frequently Disruptive, Aggressive, or Emotionally Intense
- Engages in Repetitive Actions or Is Frustrated When Encountering Slight Changes to a Routine
The above list of indicators is only a very partial list—there are many indicators necessitating professional intervention. Do not hesitate to seek advice from your pediatrician whenever there are indicators of delays in any developmental area or signs of untypical behavior.