Kindergarten teachers are angels that walk on earth. Their skills and compassion for little people who are waist-high to me is something that most teachers don't have. They make my days as a middle school teacher look like a walk in the park.
So when they were asked what skills they thought were most notable and helpful in the wee ones in our educational system, their responses paralleled the conclusions of a 19 year longitudinal study of thousands of students conducted by the American Journal of Public Heath (note: no fake news here).
The conclusions? Social and emotional skills.
Let's define both.
Social skills are those that help students interact with one another. They include talking, sharing, listening, problem solving, and helpfulness. In the long run, strong social skills help young ones become college students who can resolve conflicts, communicate messages effectively, and follow social cues resulting in successful study and employment, including double the likelihood they will start and complete college degrees.
In comparison, emotional skills are those that tie emotions to actions. Strong emotionally-balanced students avoid victim mentalities, work through issues with a sense of resiliency, are balanced, and avoid oversubscribed traits of perfection. Students less emotionally strong are shown to have a higher proclivity towards encounters with law enforcement, binge drinking, and living/wait listed for public housing.
Now, any study provides data and one does not directly correlate with another, so emotionally weak students don't always end up with law enforcement encounters, but the chances do increase.
And what is the take-away?
What we know as educators, researchers, and often as parents through our own experiences is that social and emotional skills can (and should be) taught to students, especially at home. Some of the more effective strategies as a parent are to:
- label your child's feelings and acknowledge when they are sad or angry ("I can see that you are sad right now")
- correct behaviors and not emotions (it is okay to be angry but it is not okay to hit or scratch)
- don't protect your child from a range of emotions (let them know the cat died and don't suggest it ran away and then help them through the sorrow, or acknowledge that the loss of a soccer game means focusing more next time rather telling him/her not to cry)
- validate feelings and push for being there rather than minimizing them ("I know you are upset" rather than "its just a game, no reason to be upset")
In the long run, parents have a lot of influence over raising strong young people. Partner with your school's educators to help all in the village raise children who are strong both socially and emotionally.