Posted Sep 18, 2006.
As children first enter school, parents often worry about their academic readiness. An equally important area is their social readiness. At school, children must learn to get along with other children, especially in large groups. Some face these issues quite early in child care settings. For those who have stayed at home or in small child care settings, this transition can be more challenging.
Challenges can include:Fewer adults per child to mediate conflicts
Children are less likely than most adults to give into demands
Children are forced to learn compromise and self-control
In the months leading up to the start of pre-school or kindergarten, you can help your child prepare for this transition using the following strategies.
- Create opportunities for your child to play with other same-age children. Meet other parents at homes or parks. Take advantage of groups like religious classes and free library reading/play groups. Try to not over-control the interactions. Let your child experience playing, getting frustrated, making choices, and even mistakes during the group time.
- Help your child plan for group interactions. Ask him to think ahead with “What can you do if you and another child want the same toy?” If you observe a conflict or aggressive behavior on the part of your child, ask “What could you have done differently?” Consider having them act out their ideas or draw pictures of them.
- Encourage your child to think about how others feel. Empathy is an important skill that can be practiced and learned. Ask questions like “How might Jill have felt when you pulled her hair?” Have your child play-act both parts of what it feels like to be an aggressor and a victim in a fight. Facilitate the art of a sincere apology but do not expect that to come easily. Practice will be necessary.
- Practice sharing and taking turns. You may experience less resistance by preparing your child ahead of time (“Remember that everyone will have a turn with the blue truck this morning”). Remind children to share and take turns during group play. When set-backs occur, take them up with your child afterwards using the strategies above.
- Practice positive ways your child can express her feelings, especially strong feelings such as anger, frustration, or even exuberance. Help your child realize that she can tell the other child how she feels without lashing out (screaming, hitting, biting, etc.). There are many ways to express strong feelings for example, draw pictures, play out dramas with toys, run around the playground, if outside, and talk to you or others.
The transition to larger peer-group environments is a normal one. These strategies can help your child make that change as smoothly as possible. You are your child’s best model for how to get along in the social world. Let your child catch you treating others as you want him/her to do.