A commonly overlooked or misunderstood aspect of education is in the department of social skills and needs, skills and needs that can be taught and met by teachers as well as families. However, with lack of communication or information often these skills are overlooked or under-emphasized to create a problem in the social skills taught and reinforced in students today. Following are three common social needs and skills in children, means by which families and educators can influence this behavior, and ways in which these two can inhibit the behavior. It is the goal of this paper to create awareness of the social needs of development and the dos and don’t that scatter the playing field making it complicated for teachers and parents alike to teach the proper skills. These skills can also be known as emotional intelligence as noted by Rutgers University professor Maurice Elias. Elias also states that this intelligence is “the set of abilities that we like to think of as being on the other side of the report card from the academic skills. It’s the set of abilities that helps us get along in life with other people in all kinds of life situations. It’s our ability to express emotions, to detect emotions in others, to regulate our strong feelings when we have them.” (2001).
In order for a child to develop into a caring, loving adult they need to learn at an early age the fine art of giving and receiving. It sounds simple enough, but it rarely is. Have you ever noticed a child grabbing at another child’s toy? Or a three year old refusing to share his candy with his older sister? In Erikson’s stages of development he states that from birth to eighteen months a child needs to learn to give and receive. (Slavin, 2003.) In this area, the parents play an important role. The capability to give and receive works itself into just about every aspect of our everyday lives and according to Erikson comes back to use when we are seniors choosing between a life of self-absorption and passing on the knowledge and love we have to our youth.
Likewise, it is important for a child to become “tuned-in socially,” meaning the child must gain or possess the ability to value other’s interests and respect them accordingly. This is an essential skill as it can and will affect their relationships with their peers throughout life. Without this skill it becomes almost impossible to value others and create meaningful relationships. As a child, this affects play and the ability to make and keep friends. As an adult, this affects social relations personally and at work, and creates an ability or inability to work with others.
Last, but not least, parents and teachers need to give the gift of responsibility to their students. This skill is highly used throughout the students life and there is no time in either school, work, or personal life in which this valuable skill becomes invalid. Responsibility gives the student to ability to maintain an independent lifestyle. Examples of good responsibility, and a lack of, can be seen in many college students today. Those who successfully learned this skill during their youth years have an easier time managing time, getting assignments in, supporting themselves or working part-time for extra money, and handling student life in general. Those without this skill tend to fall short in academic expectations, and have hard time adjusting to life outside their home. These students eventually have to learn responsibility, or continue to cope with the problems associated with a lack of responsibility. This often pans into their after college life inhibiting a reward career.
With all this in mind, one should realize the influences and inhibitions resulting from family and school. Both can have a positive impact on learning these skills, or they can deal a fatal blow causing the child to never fully obtain the desired the skill. Robert Slavin, in his book on education Psychology, states that aspects of a child’s development “will be strongly influenced by experiences at home, at school, and with peers.” (Slavin, 2003.) This means that the skills we wish our children to learn can and should be taught to them in school when they are under the instruction of a teacher, and where peers will also be learning the skills enhancing the idea of learning from peers.
In the classroom teachers contribute to the learning of these three aforementioned skills by treating every student equally and with respect. This gives students confidence and results in respect and trust in the teacher thus enhancing the learning of desired skills in the classroom. Additionally, this teaches students how they should deal with one another in a respectful and responsible manner. In regard to this, the teacher can build relationships and trust among students by assigning group work, study partners, or other cooperative assignments that build relationships requiring trust and responsibility. Additionally, these types of activities give students a chance to interact with their peers thus enhancing how “tuned-in” they can be to others ideas and interests. (For the purposes of this paper, this skill will often be referred to as “socially active.”) Moreover, these types of assignments require the students to learn to give and receive when dealing with their peers in order to maintain a stable and comfortable environment. This can become a valuable lesson for the future.
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, Maslow states that teachers can be supportive and create camaraderie between students. He goes on to say that teachers can do these things by not only implementing cooperative assignments but by, involving students in discussions and lectures to show that everyone’s opinion matter. In classes with younger students he encourages teachers to create activity books, conduct weekly reading, and create games that can be sent home to be done with family members. Additionally, teachers can model good behavior through being resilient toward setbacks. This encourages self confidence and a constructive attitude toward the world around them enhancing their ability to deal with their peers. (Kearsley, 2005).
Another strategy that can enhance a child’s sociability is the endorsement of positive behaviors in the classroom. During conflicts of interest teachers can try to encourage a compromise between the students as opposed to simply letting one student walk away unhappy. This teaches the students to do the same for future problems, that both sides are important, and neither means more than the other.
In conjunction with school assignments that are sent home by the teacher for students and their families to do together, families can play an integral part in the teaching of these skills to their children. Small things like taking care of pets and chores can create a sense of responsibility and allows for students to slowly work into the responsibilities they will have as they get older. In addition, the family gives love and nurturing to the child, those growing up in families without this bond often have problems learning to give and receive emotionally as well as develop trust issues. In this way, the family is so important because they are the first exposure to these first two skills. Parents and older siblings are prime role models of what is to be expected and what is to be learned by their child, brother or sister. Parents can provide ample time for their child to play with peers which can create a better understanding among them and opportunities to learn social norms of interaction. Moreover, parents can play with the child themselves letting the child lead the play. This models constructive behavior and can teach the child new ways of being socially active. A parent is a great model of how one should act, in this way the child will model the behavior of the parent when playing with other children, thus creating positive social interactions between peers.
Yet, families can also hinder the development of these essential skills, sometimes without even knowing it. It was discussed earlier how families can withhold essential nurturing and love hindering the development of social activity and love (giving and receiving), however, families can be overprotective causing similar problems. Often this is not the intent of the family, but no matter what the intent it can cause problems in the future for the child. Children who grow up with over protective parents often have problems learning responsibility and how to be self-reliant. Instead of learning how to take care of things on their own, they end up only knowing how to turn to their parents for assistance. This also causes problems in social relationships by causing a constant need for attention and care. In essence, the child never truly grows up. Another common hindrance to these social skills, social activity more specifically, is the communication between parent and child. No matter what the age it is important to talk to your child. Often times parents don’t communicate common social norms and values to their children thus leaving them to try and figure them out themselves. Many children can, but it leads to a harder childhood development stage. It is harder to make friends and keep them without this knowledge that parents can and should easily model for their child. Talking with a child about social relationships, what is okay and what’s not, what to do in certain situations, and so on, can be an important lesson for the child and can be used throughout their lifetime.
Another means by which families often inhibit the growth and development of socials skills is by creating an environment that is stale and unchanging. When problems arise they are always dealt with the same way, a child is punished or something equally as static. Instead of taking these redundant, and often times, useless measures parents should try implementing a more “problem solving” type of approach to every day situations. This encourages and teaches children proper and different ways of handling problematic situations. “Parents of the most competent children often consider with the child multiple approaches to situations and reflect on potential consequences of each course of action.” (Encouraging Social Skills in Young Children, n.d).
However, families are not the only offenders in inhibiting the growth and development of these essential skills. Schools and teachers can be just as guilty. Often times teachers feel the need to do things themselves without giving students a chance to take on a new task. This only solidifies in the child’s mind that they are not capable of doing these things. In reality there are a number of responsibility building tasks that can be given to the students to encourage the growth and development of this essential skill. Furthermore, by encouraging responsibility among students a teacher is also showing how others should be treated reinforcing how to interact socially. As you can see, denying a student this responsibility can hurt both their ability to develop a more mature interaction with others, as well as hinder their acquiring the skill of responsibility.
In addition to the aforementioned, the lesson of giving and receiving can be inhibited by over criticism and favoritism. The former can also inhibit their “social activity” and the skills that are acquired to make them more socially tuned-in to others as it shows a lack of sensitivity and consideration for the student’s feelings. This can send the message that the teacher simply doesn’t care. A little constructive criticism is good and can actually help, but over criticism leads to negative reinforcement in the giving and receiving process. It reinforces that if the students gives then they will only receive criticism and nothing positive so they will not want to give at all. An alternative effect could also be that they will learn to model this sort of behavior and become overly critical themselves; both are undesirable outcomes which can easily be avoided.
Both parents and schools should turn to the humanistic theories of such theorists as Maslow, Rogers, Elias, and Erikson for answers concerning ways by which to create a better learning experience for students. The humanistic theory puts emphasis on cue and behavior which is why it is a perfect theory for shaping the behavior of students. Under this theory it is the teacher job to model the kind of behavior that is desired from the students. For example, if the teacher wants each student to become respectful of their elders and peers, they should first model this behavior and show the student how to it, and how it feels to be respected. In this way the student can develop a sense of how they wish to be treated and can treat others accordingly. Through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs one can see what a person needs and from there both teachers and parents can strive to provide the kind of environment that is supportive of these needs.
According to Carl Rogers, a humanistic theorist, a teacher needs to become more of a facilitator in the classroom allowing children to learn based on experiences. This puts the responsibility to learn into the hands of the students thus enhancing this particular social skill. Under Roger’s theory “Self-initiated learning is the most lasting and pervasive.” (Kearsley, 2005).
EXPAND ON METHODS!!!!!
Two examples are as follows. Different types of behavior can be noticed everyday from stores, the cinema, even our own home. While working as a child care provider I noticed the different ways in which parents interact with their children.
Upon coming home the parents greeted their child with a tender hug, kiss, and smile. No matter how rough their day was, they always had a smile for her. As they walked through the tiled corridor hand in hand, her mother asks how her day was, what did she do? What had she learned at school? Eagerly the child, Lily, answers smiling all the while and running back and forth to obtain the items she’d made at school or with her babysitter. A dance with the crown and wand, a quick flick of her foot to throw off her shoe in an effort at mimicking Cinderella, a countdown from ten to talk about a shuttle taking off. All of these things she does as she explains with rapidly moving gestures the events of the day. Her mother listens with wide eyes, a smile, and interested follow-up questions.
Four year old Lily’s speech is quite advanced for her age. Her vocabulary and her conversational skills further these facts. Such results as this can only be traced back to the consistent and encouraged daily practice she took part in daily. Moreover, her social manners surpassed those of children her age. Since her parents treated her with kindness, love, patience, and respect, she was able to return these feelings and manners to those around her in both speech and action. This level of interaction, rarely seen in children her age, was passed on to other children and adults around her.
Additionally, credited to her mother’s eagerness to talk and share with her daughter, Lily also learned to share. This sharing entailed both the sharing of information as well as the sharing of belongings. Both levels of this skill are absolutely invaluable to a growing child as they help to create a more communicative and socially healthy adult.
On the other hand, during a separate experience as a child care provider, I experienced three children being left with the nanny from the early hours of the morning until nearly eight at night. Although the caregiver took the children to school, gymnastics, and friend’s houses, the children were never given ample time with their parents.
Upon the parent’s arrival dinner was already finished. Unlike Lily, the three children were not greeted with an eager and tender smile. They weren’t swept up into their parent’s arms or asked about the day’s activities. Instead, these activities were enquired after from the caregiver who then had to give an account of the day in full. When one of the older children interrupted with an excited story from the day they were promptly cut off and scolded.
Additionally, one of the three children was given a great amount of favoritism. Although the child was the youngest, the other two were often placed in a playroom alone or in front of the TV screen. As can be expected, the other children began to detest the youngest, they took up crying over small issues, whining constantly, and using elevated tones and inappropriate language to their parents.
This kind of behavior can be expected in such a situation. Their respect for authority was not there, and they showed no signs of trust or the desire to give or share at all. This is an extreme case, but it does effectively show the result of denying basic needs and impairing the learning of essential skills.
When all is said and done, our children are the most important thing we have for the future so it is important to teach them the essential skills of being social and dealing with others. Both schools and parents can do this easily enough by simply paying attention to the needs Maslow states, and implementing the kinds of skill building concepts introduced in this paper.
Elias, M. (2001) Maurice Elias on Emotional Intelligence and the Family. Retrieved May 22, 2006, from Edutopia. Website: http://edutopia.org/php/interview.php?id=Art_701
Kearsley, G. (2005). Experiential learning (c. rogers). Retrieved Dec. 03, 2005, from Explorations in Learning & Instruction:
Web site: http://tip.psychology.org/rogers.html.
Mize, Abell. (n.d.) Retrieved May 18, 2006, from Encouraging Social Skills in Young Children: Tips Teachers Can Share With Parents. Website: http://www.humsci.auburn.edu/parent/socialskills.html
Slavin, R. (2003). Educational Psychology : Theory and Practice. 7th ed. : Pearson Education, Inc..