Ready for Kindergarten with Super Social Emotional Skills

Ready for Kindergarten with Super Social Emotional Skills

It’s April! And that means that our countdown to summer and getting ready for kindergarten in the fall has begun! This month we will be focusing on social emotional skills, a set of abilities that are super important for kindergarten.

We hear lots about how children need to be prepared academically for kindergarten, like knowing their letters and numbers. But recent research about the things that help kids to be successful in school shows that academics aren’t the whole story. Social emotional skills are also important to helping kids succeed in school (and life).

So what are social emotional skills? These are the kinds of things that help kids to get along with others and also help them to be able to concentrate and pay attention in the classroom. Some examples of these skills are:

Cooperation– the ability to work with others and share materials and space

Empathy – the ability to understand how other people are feeling even if you don’t feel that same way yourself

Making friends – this sounds big and actually does include a number of skills, like being friendly, empathy, sharing etc., but it is one of the most important things that your child will do in kindergarten

Self-control – the ability to control your impulses to do one thing when you really might want to do another (maybe more fun) thing

Emotion regulation – the abilities to calm down when upset or frustrated, or to not get too excited even when something super cool is happening

Attentional focus – being able to direct your attention to what you are supposed to be concentrating on

Intention attribution – this serious sounding skill is really just about being able to figure out why other people are doing what they are doing–being able to guess their intentions-so you know how to respond to them

These are just some of the social emotional skills that are important for school readiness. Helping your kids to practice social emotional skills may seem like a big ask. But if you think about it, every time that your child plays with another child peacefully, she is practicing a bunch of those skills, like sharing, cooperation, recognizing another person’s feelings, and intention attribution. And when you work with your child to calm down when he has been hurt or upset, or ask him to use his inside voice if he is getting excited and yelling in the house, you are helping him to practice emotion regulation.

Here are a few things that you can do during your everyday activities to help your child learn about and practice social emotional skills:

  • Talk about how other people are feeling. You can do this while you read books (“How do think the little girl in that picture is feeling?”), while you are watching movies (“He looks mad. I can tell because he is scrinching up his eyebrows.”), or even during real life situations (“Your little sister is crying; how do you thinks she feels right now?”).
  • Name social emotional skills when you see your child (or others) doing them. For example, if you child shares her markers with her brother, point it out, “You are sharing when you let your brother use your markers! What a nice, friendly thing to do.” Or if you and your partner or friend are making dinner together you could say “Look, we are working together and cooperating.”
  • Reinforce your child’s social emotional skills. We have a saying here at KITS “What you pay attention to, you see more of.” So if your child shares well with his brother, notice it and reinforce it. You can do that just by saying “You shared with your brother when you gave him half your cracker. That was a really friendly thing to do. I bet that makes him really happy.” Or even give your child a thumbs up and a smile. If you want your child to keep showing those great social emotional skills, you have to encourage him or her.

All this month, we will be posting information about social emotional skills and how to help your child learn them. We will post activities and other ways to practice them, too. If you come up with fun activities, we would love to hear about them in the comments!

Katherine Pears
Dr. Katherine Pears is a senior scientist at Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC). She earned her Ph.D in clinical psychology and has worked with OSLC since 1998. Katherine is the principal investigator and co-developer of the Kids In Transition to Schools (KITS) program. Currently, she oversees all the clinical and research activities for KITS. When she’s not in her office, you’ll find Katherine in the kitchen whipping up her latest creation or outdoors hiking a scenic trail.

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