5 Social Skills Your Kids Need to Master Before Starting School

As a Kindergarten teacher, I see the same social skills issues over and over. Parents try their best to guide their kids in the right direction, hoping they properly socialize with their peers through trial and error. In reality, it’s not that simple–basic social skills need to be explicitly taught. When students enter school for the first time, everything is new–especially acceptable social behavior. But a student-parent team that masters (as much as a Kindergartner can master anything) the five following skills are going to be ahead of the game by miles.

1. Diversify Friends BFF’s are great–everyone needs a best friend. But early on in the school year, your kid needs to make as many friends as possible. Young students tend to latch on to one friend. Unfortunately, there will come a day when your kid’s sole friend plays with another child and it will happen–I see ‘best friends’ form and break up daily. Your kid will feel left out, betrayed–maybe even isolated. In short, it’ll destroy their day. If you explain early on that it’s OK to play with different friends, they’ll be more likely to find another friend to play with instead of sulking in a corner.

2. Good Friends are Proactive Friends Teach your child to go out of their way to be a good friend to others. You can begin this by pointing out helpful opportunities. “Sarah, James needs help tying his shoes–you know how to do that–go ask him if he needs help.” Or “Alex, I bet Lilly would like it if you help her open her milk carton.” Then praise them for their kindness afterwards. Soon, Sarah and Alex will find ways to help on their own–it’s all about reinforcing good habits they don’t know exist. This also takes a lot of work off the teacher–have you ever had 30 kids ask you to tie their shoes and open up their milk cartons for them?

3. Mean Words are Unacceptable, Period Kids tend to say some pretty bad things when they’re feeling insecure or trying to control the situation. On the playground, I’ve heard, “If you don’t do (blank), I won’t be your friend!” or “I don’t like you, I like Chloe now. She’s my new best friend!” This behavior has to be shut down immediately. Many adults believe these tactics are typical child behavior. But those mean little kids turn into middle-school bullies who become mean adults. Stop it young.

4. Speak Up For Themselves This skill may be difficult for most kids new to the school environment, particularly if they are introverted. However, it is imperative to teach your child to verbally tell other students to cease harassing behavior. You’re not always going to be at school to protect your kid when things go down, but if your child tells you of a classmate who plays rough, teach them to say, “Stop pushing my that way. I don’t like it.”

When I teach students to do this in the classroom, the behavior is nearly always stopped immediately. Many times, it’s because the rough student doesn’t even realize this behavior is annoying others–they might see it as playing. Other times, it’s because he or she feels uncomfortable with the confrontation. Either way, if your kid can speak up in a calm, concise way, their confidence shoots through the roof.

5. Speak Up for Others This is controversial because families often teach their children to stay out of situations that don’t involve them. I wholeheartedly disagree. Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Obviously, Kindergartners are not evil! Well, most anyway–I kid. However, the sentiment remains the same: when you see someone hurting someone, you step in! Teach your children to be the protector of the little guy.

Roben Rutherford has been a teacher for 15 years in grades spanning K through 5th grade. She earned her Master’s degree in Education at Vanguard University and has written a dozen or so textbooks on American and California history. She also has two middle-schoolers of her own.

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