Successful Kids Have Strong Social Skills

Social skills are essential for raising happy and successful children. Now there is even more evidence to support this statement…

Social Skills

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Social Interactions can Enhance Creativity

Social interactions can help us to be more creative, and creativity is one of the most important qualities we can have. It has been said many times – creativity does not exist in a vacuum. Indeed, according to Dr Muthukrishna’s research, creativity exists in the collective mind.

To be an innovator, it’s better to be social rather than smart.

There’s no doubt that there are variations in people’s raw skills, but what predicts the difference between a Steve Jobs and a Joe Bloggs is actually their exposure to new ideas that are wonderful and different.

If you want to be more creative the best thing you can do is to talk to people who disagree with you.

– Muthukrishna

It’s a chain reaction – to help children be more creative, they need social interactions for which they will need social skills. They also need to be able to listen to the ideas of people who disagree with them and be willing to turn these ideas around in their heads. This is challenging because we have a strong tendency to shut down opposing ideas from the start without hearing them or considering them.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

Strong Social Skills in Kindergarten Improves Chances of Future Success

A 20 year study published in the American Journal of Public Health reveals that children with strong social skills in kindergarten (such as a willingness to share or be helpful) are more likely to have greater career success in adulthood. The study followed 800 children from kindergarten to adulthood. Data was collected on the children’s social competence in kindergarten and their career outcomes in adulthood.

Key Research Findings:

For every one-point increase in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she was:

  • Twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood;
  • 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma; and
  • 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25.

For every one-point decrease in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she had:

  • 64% higher chance of having spent time in juvenile detention;
  • 67% higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood;
  • 52% higher rate of recent binge drinking and 82% higher rate of recent marijuana usage; and
  • 82% higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing.

Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Helping Children Develop Strong Social Skills

“Helping children develop social and emotional skills is one of the most important things we can do to prepare them for a healthy future.” – Kristin Schubert, program director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Even though we know that social skills are important – as essential as reading, writing and math – it does not get the same level of attention. Why is that? Is it because we don’t think it is a problem until children are getting into trouble at school for delinquent behaviour; is it because we think that social skills are something all children eventually learn along the way; or is it because we don’t know how to help them?

If a child is having trouble with math, we can help them with extra math classes or hiring a tutor. The same goes for literacy and other subjects at school. But when it comes to social skills, it’s not so straight forward. So what can we do to help our children develop their social skills? The following are some methods that may help.

Reading Literary Fiction Books may Enhance Social Skills

Studies support the finding that reading fictional works, specifically literary fiction, engages the part of the brain involved in empathy and imagination. Researchers believe that this may enhance social skills.

Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind – Science, 2013:

…reading literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective Theory of Mind* (ToM) and cognitive ToM compared with reading nonfiction, popular fiction, or nothing at all. Specifically, these results show that reading literary fiction temporarily enhances ToM.

* Theory of Mind refers to the brain’s ability to recognise that other people may have different thoughts and feelings from ours.

Reading fiction and reading minds: The role of simulation in the default network – Social Cognitive and Effective Neuroscience, 2015:

Findings from neuroscience show that reading and social cognition both recruit the default network, a network which is known to support our capacity to simulate hypothetical scenes, spaces, and mental states… Analyses also demonstrated that participants who read fiction most often also showed the strongest social cognition performance.

What is literary fiction?

The definition for literary fiction is a work that holds literary merit. That usually means it is likely to have won some literary award. Literary fiction is also usually more about the characters and is “real world”. HuffPost sums it up best:

In essence, the best Genre Fiction contains great writing, with the goal of telling a captivating story to escape from reality. Literary Fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer’s being, and is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves.

If you’re still struggling for titles, you can check out the best literary fiction list from Goodreads.

Play is Important for Social and Emotional Development

Play helps children increase their social competence and emotional maturity by allowing them to:

  • Practice both verbal and nonverbal communication skills by negotiating roles, trying to gain access to ongoing play, and appreciating the feelings of others.
  • Respond to their peers’ feelings while waiting for their turn and sharing materials and experiences.
  • Experiment with roles of the people in their home, school, and community by coming into contact with the needs and wishes of others.
  • Experience others’ points of view by working through conflicts about space, materials, or rules positively.
  • Express and cope with difficult feelings and experiences. Through the action of play, children can safely explore situations and emotions they might not want to face in real life, such as: “dark” emotions, experiences that frighten them, or doing things they are not allowed.

The Impact of Music on Social and Personal Development

Children who learn music have better communication and social interaction skills because it helps children develop empathy and improve their ability to interpret facial expressions and body language.

Music has been linked to the capacity to increase emotional sensitivity. The recognition of
emotions in music is related to emotional intelligence. – The Power of Music

It should be added that these positive effects of music are dependent on the child enjoying learning music. In other words, forcing children to pick up learning music when they hate it probably won’t do much for them from a social and personal development perspective.

Social Skills Interventions

The follow presentation by Kristine Strong on Social Skills Interventions may be intended for children with special needs but the activities are recommended can also be used with any child.

More ways to build social skills:

  • Neuro-Dramatic Play
  • Mindfulness Meditation – children who were taught mindfulness skills showed a 24% improvement in social behaviors. They were less aggressive and more empathetic and optimistic than peers without the training.
  • Sports – kids who are active in sports have better emotional management and social skills.

Emotional Intelligence: Children Need Empathy to be Successful

So Homeschooling Raises Socially Awkward Kids?

I had to post this…

I remember when I first entertained the idea of homeschooling the boys I was met with a lot of negativity – not that it should have been any surprise since it goes against everything we are familiar with. One of the common misconceptions that struck me was belief that it was a bad idea because homeschooled kids grow up weird. They become socially awkward adults because of their lack of social exposure or something to that effect. Anyway, the net idea that was communicated to me was homeschooled = freak. Perhaps this biassed has been influenced by movies from Hollywood that have often portrayed the homeschooled child as somewhat of an outcast. If you want to know what I mean, the movie The Internship portrayed a perfect example with the character Yo-Yo Santos who is a socially awkward adult who was formerly a homeschooled child with an overbearing mother.

Then I saw this presentation by 13 year old Logan LaPlante in his first TedTalk presentation on Hackschooling – a term he coined himself.

As expected, there is a lot of heat on the topic (and you can read about it in the comments on this post if you are really interested) but when I saw this video, I saw something else. I saw a bright, confident, and articulate 13 year old that any parent would be proud of. It certainly puts a new perspective to those misconceived notions that homeschooling creates “freaky” kids. Homeschooled or not, if either of my boys present like this at 13 years old, I wouldn’t be complaining – I’d be thrilled.

The Question of Sending a Toddler to School – Part 2

It probably seems ironic for me to write this since I did pack my two and half year old toddler off to preschool, but nevertheless, I think it must be said. Despite the fact that I did send him to school, I have been questioning myself whether I did the right thing. I have also been wondering whether I should consider removing him from school.

What I can’t understand is why so many people think it is critical for a child to attend school so young. I’m not talking about the desire of some current day parents who want to make sure they do everything to keep their child ahead of the pack. These comments about sending children to school have also coming from the grandparents. The funny thing is that we (the parents of this generation) didn’t attend school until kindergarten and that was usually about the age of 4 or 5 years old. There was never any concern back then about the development of our social skills so why is it such a concern now?

Social skills aren’t just about whether a child can play with another child his age. It is also about the child’s ability to interact with people in general – people of all ages. Besides, if the desire is to help improve the social skills of a child, then it appears that sending a toddler to preschool might actually be achieving the opposite effect.

According to the article “The Dark Side of Preschool” attending preschool appears to hinder the rate at which young children develop social skills. We’re not talking about a small study of children from a single preschool either. This is a massive study observing over 14000 children from diverse backgrounds, and the results are the same:

  • attendance to preschool, even for short periods of time hinders the rate at which young children develop social skills and display the motivation to engage classroom tasks.
  • the problem occurs regardless of the quality of preschool.
  • there were increased behavioural problems if a child attended at least 15 hours of preschool a week (which includes my son who is currently attending 20 hours of preschool a week).
  • the effect is dosage dependent, so the longer the child spends in preschool, the worse the behaviour becomes.

“Problems included defiance–like talking back, throwing temper tantrums, and refusing to cooperate. They also included aggressive behaviors–being cruel, destroying toys and other objects, and getting into physical fights.”
The critical time period appears to be the first 4.5 years of life where the ideal place for a child is to be under maternal care (or similar care, such as by nannies or grandparents).

The underlying problem appears to be due to the extended peer contact time. Increased negative behaviour is also believed to be associated with increased cortisol levels related to stress experienced by toddlers due to preschool which can lead to health and developmental problems. The increase in stress levels is believed to be due to social stress.

So what exactly is the problem with peer socialisation?

While the assumption is correct that we need to expose children to other people in order for them to develop, it appears the key lies in who you expose your child to.  Evidently, a bunch of other preschoolers are not necessarily the right group of people to help a toddler learn social interaction.  This is because:

“Preschoolers need to learn empathy, compassion, patience, emotional self-control, social etiquette, patience, and an upbeat, constructive attitude for dealing with social problems.

These lessons can’t be learned through peer contact alone. Preschools are populated with impulsive, socially incompetent little people who are prone to sudden fits of rage or despair. These little guys have difficulty controlling their emotions, and they are ignorant of the social niceties. They have poor insight into the minds and emotions of others.

Yes, preschoolers can offer each other important social experiences. But their developmental status makes them unreliable social tutors. A child who copies other children may pick up good habits—-but she may also pick up bad ones. And peers do not always provide each other with right kind of feedback.

When a child offers to share his toy with a caring adult, he gets rewarded with gratitude and praise. He also learns that he will eventually get his toy back. When he offers to share with a peer, he may not get rewarded at all. Without adult guidance, these experiences can undermine social development by teaching the wrong lessons.

Moreover, it’s hard to see what’s natural about herding together a bunch of children who are all the same age. From the evolutionary, historical, and cross-cultural perspectives, it’s an unusual practice.”

Thankfully preschool isn’t all doom and gloom and there are things you can do so you can still get the most out of preschool while minimising the negative effects.

So what can you do?  Let’s take a closer look at that in the next post: “How to Negate the Negative Effects of Preschool“…