Will my child fit in? Will my child make friends? Questions like these are running through many parents’/guardians’ minds as kindergarten looms. As much as we parents want our children to flourish academically, our concerns often revolve around social issues. After all, most parents/guardians simply want their child to be happy.
A Kindergarteners Social Skills (or Lack Thereof)
For a child to transition to, make friends, and succeed socially in kindergarten, there are a few traits that are particularly important. These traits include a willingness to take turns, empathy, asking for help in a calm way, ability to express feelings, and a sense of responsibility. It does not mean your child will fail socially if he or she does not have these traits. “It’s a learning process as plenty of children come in and can’t do these things, ” says Judy Smizik who taught kindergarten for 36 years while also serving as an instructional teacher leader, and as an intervention specialist. She adds, “Teachers are constantly facilitating and modeling such behaviors and positively reinforcing when a child demonstrates the proper behaviors.”
There are a few traits that are particularly important: a willingness to take turns, empathy, asking for help in a calm way, ability to express feelings, and a sense of responsibility.
It’s easy and understandable to show concern if your child is not displaying the traits that will help him or her socially in kindergarten. However, Alina Adams, a school consultant and the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Getting Into NYC Kindergarten,” works with dozens of families every year to find the best school for their child, speaks to groups and contributes to a national blog, New York School Talk, cautions parents to have patience. “Even if your child goes the entire year without displaying some of the social skills needed for kindergarten, such as speaking up for themselves, don’t panic. Children are acting developmentally appropriate, and behaviors take time to come out.”
Adams adds there’s a wide spectrum of what is appropriate and some of these things such as making friends and figuring out apropos behavior in new situations are life-long processes. If the child is not socially mature enough for kindergarten, there are options such as finding a half-day program or even holding them back.
How to Help
If your child is struggling socially in kindergarten, there are ways you can help. Before jumping to conclusions, there are two things to do. These two things are reaching out to adults in the classroom to try and learn more about what’s happening and talk to the child to get their perspective.
Sascha Mowrey is an assistant professor of early childhood education in the childhood education and family studies department at Missouri State University who spent eight years in the classroom working with young children. Mowrey notes that when parents/guardians are clear on the issue, they can strive to help. “In order to help the child socially, the parent or guardian could model how to interact with all kinds of people including saying hello to others and how to find commonality. [For example,] if a child is very shy, a parent/guardian, could walk into the classroom with the child and say good morning and hi to others there.”
While modeling can be done throughout the day, a particularly good place to practice behaviors is the playground. There are bound to be unfamiliar children there with their own agendas. It will also require taking turns.
Playdates, particularly those which include more than one other child, are also opportunities for children to work on their social skills. Smizik suggests taking children to a local library for a group story time. “These sort of outings help children feel comfortable with other children that are not familiar to them,” says Smizik.
Reading together is also an opportunity to teach your child empathy which will help them socially at school. While reading, parents and guardians can discuss things with their children such as feelings, faces, and reading others, etc.
Finally, there’s role playing. Acting out the situations can allow your child to express his/her fears and or concerns. It’s also a chance to give the child the vocabulary needed to deal with their new setting.
The Bottom Line
As noted above, there is not a one size fits all when it comes to adjusting socially to kindergarten. The transition can be challenging, as Smizik notes the month of September is the toughest one for teachers and students as they are adjusting to the environment and routines.
Mowrey, however, says that within the first few weeks, a child who is adjusting well will be able to name a couple of classmates and have a friend. The time frame could vary depending upon the structure of the classroom.
There is no 100% “normal” when it comes to children acclimating socially to kindergarten. Even if a child is struggling socially, parents and guardians should broach the subject with their children with caution. Focusing extensively on these issues could make them a bigger deal than they are.