Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Can't we all just get along?

Heather Gillum, PhD, CCC-SLP
On Monday I posted a link about some of the social skills needed for success in the kindergarten classroom.  That article echoed the sentiments of a national survey of kindergarten teachers that we shared in February (here) and highlighted the importance of cooperation and sensitivity to others.

According to my daughter I'm not a "yeller" as she puts it (which I am assuming is a good thing), but I would like to shout this from a mountaintop:

If your child can read on a third grade level, do two-digit addition and subtraction, tell time, write in cursive and ride a bike BUT cannot get along with other children, has difficulty following directions and dealing with rules, and lacks the emotional regulation to get through the day without a meltdown, your child is not ready for kindergarten.

Ah, I said it.  I feel so much better now.  If your child is socially ready, working on the traditional pre-academic skills is a gift to your child, and will be our focus on the blog this summer.  But if your child is not socially ready, now is the time to be thinking about (1) what you can do to help address these skills and (2) what you will do next fall if kindergarten is not in the cards.  The first step if you have these kinds of concerns for your child is to talk with this year's teacher.  If you ask directly about this you may be surprised how candid she is. But let's take a moment to break down the three areas.

Getting along with peers is key, because good kindergarten classrooms are collaborative environments where students sit together at tables, play together in centers, and share as a group at circle time.  Here are some of the specific skills needed:
  1. Ability to enter an ongoing play situation with other children, going with the flow of ongoing play, and adapting to changes in the play situation.
  2. Communication skills to show disagreement verbally ("No, I'm using this right now") instead of physically (with hands, feet, and teeth--that biting thing especially doesn't go over well).
  3. Negotiation skills ("Can I use that shovel when you are done with it?")
  4. Recognition of when you need to seek out an adult (such as when a child threatens or hurts another child) without becoming a tattler.
  5. Ability to express compassion and kindness, offering appropriate complements, care, and concern.
Concerned about these skills? Have some friends over to play, stay within earshot, and come in and model appropriateness when needed.

Hopefully your child's preschool environment placed a value on compliance--following classroom rules and verbal directions.  This is a good one to discuss with the teacher.  But also pay attention to what happens at home.  Do you ask your child to do something, but then let it slide when it doesn't get done? I have a history of slipping up on this one, and it did not slip by her teachers unnoticed.  Case in point:  one preschool teacher was so surprised by my child's lack of compliance, despite her overall good-natured personality, that she recommended getting her hearing checked. Her hearing was fine, thankfully, but I realized that I needed to tighten the reins a bit.  A little firmness and a lot of consistency at home can go a long way toward shaping up this behavior.  

And finally, emotional regulation.  This is the ability to pull it together at drop off time, go with the flow when transitioning from one activity to the next, manage tiredness without crumbling into a sobbing heap, and handle the hard knocks and minor rejections that are inevitable in day to day life with other kids.  Regard meltdowns as communication, and acknowledge the discontent of the child crying on the floor without reinforcing the excessive display of dissatisfaction. Something like "I know you are mad about (fill in the blank).  We can talk about it when you get up off the floor."
Do not get sucked into the vortex when your child breaks down--they may be amping up the drama as a way to get more attention from you. Because, let's get real, it does tug at a mama's heart to see a child in distress, but your child's teacher is not going to have the same maternal response. If you are struggling with these issues, your pediatrician can be a rich resource on developmental appropriateness.

These social skills may feel a bit more difficult to address than the concrete ABC's and 123's, but they are even more important for kindergarten success.


  1. Great post, Heather. Thanks for helping us all keep our eyes on the things that will really help our kids succeed and be ready for Kindergarten.

  2. Thanks Heather! I am following the blog closely as my little one starts kindergarten in the fall. I can definitely see some areas that could use improvement!


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