TEACHABLE MOMENTS: Importance of teaching social skills

Tommy Fairweather
Tommy Fairweather

Two current research reports, from the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University, indicate that social skills taught before kindergarten have a long term effect on the child. The researchers tracked 700 children from kindergarten to age 25 and the results were striking. The children who learned these skills by kindergarten were much more likely to complete college and have a full time job by age 25. Those who lack the skills early in life are more likely to get arrested, binge drink and live in public housing. The purpose of this article is to identify the specific social skills and make recommendations on how to help your child learn them.

Listening to others is one of the most important social skills. Parents should always be a model for listening. When your child is talking stop and pay attention. Teach your child not to interrupt when you are talking to an adult. Remember, when your child is very young, the attention span is short. When you talk to your child keep it short and explicit. To bring the point home, you can make ears (one for each person in the family) and glue to tongue depressors. Make one set of lips and glue to a depressor. The person talking uses the lips and the others have ears. Kids get this because they have to hold an object that reminds them of their role. Eventually, you can remove the manipulatives.

Understanding the feelings of others is important. First, children have to understand their own feelings. To help them, parents can get them to express these feelings. Vanderbilt University offers quite a few suggestions for children from birth to three: For children three to five, The National Association for the Education of Young Children provides a PDF of ways to help children 3-6 learn the vocabulary of feelings.

My favorite activity is the use of puppets to talk to your child. The puppet can talk about being sad and cry and the child quickly understands. Then the child can put the puppet on his hand and cry. This website recommends games, as well. When the children understand their own feelings, they can begin to observe the expression of feelings by others.

Cooperating with others without prompting is a necessary social skill. The key words are without prompting. Once again, parents set the model for teaching this social skill. If your spouse is trying to do something and having difficulty, you step in to help without being asked. The same thing happens when your child is having difficulty. Then, as your child matures, you begin asking for his or her help. Eventually, the child will start asking to help. Playing games that require team work to play is another great idea. Any activity requiring the child to see that helping others can get the “job” done more effectively is a great teacher of pitching-in.

Solving problems yourself is important for a lifetime. Beginning this skill early will make it a habit. My mother sent me to my room to think about what got me in trouble and how I might have accomplished what I wanted without getting in trouble. This activity can begin as early as three and a half and helps the child learn to develop alternatives to solve a problem. It also forces the child to realize what the real problem is. In my childhood, I had to discuss my three solutions with my mother.

If all parents taught these skills prior to kindergarten, public schools and most other schools would be quite different than they are today. Children would come to school ready to learn. The most important of all these skills is to teach your child to listen. The application of these combined skills during the child’s lifetime will not just lead to success. Practicing them will lead to a very happy life. All parents want their children to be happy. It takes work on the parents’ part early in life for this to happen.

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher, who lives in Destin and still volunteers in the school system.