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Social Skills for Success

Written By: A. Wilt

September 2015

When we have kids, we want to give them every advantage we can. We strive to raise them to be successful adults. When we think of them as adults, we picture future teachers, doctors, or business owners, and imagine them in their own homes with their own families. Throughout all of these daydreams, we hope for our kids to be successful and happy.

There are lots of tools for us to assist them in their academic success – test prep centers, flashcards, games, and books. That list goes on and on, and it seems that every year there is a new tool for us to assist them with math or reading. What we haven’t always focused on is the so-called ‘soft skills’ in child development.

Back in the USA News Story: Social Skills for Success.

Soft skills are the skills we use in our everyday lives. They include our communication skills, our ability to think problems through, make decisions, and get along with other people. As adults, we often see them on employee reviews, and perspective employers ask about them in interviews. Those who have these skills are more likely to be hired, less likely to be fired, and are more likely to be happy.

Sometimes these skills can be more important than the meat and potatoes of the job. That is to say, it’s often easier to teach a person to use a computer system than it is to teach them how to get along with customers. But the link between those skills and adult success starts far earlier than our first job or college experience.

Twenty years ago, a group of researchers set out to explore the development of young children’s social and emotional skills, along with how those skills related to those students’ long-term success. They conducted their study in four different school districts located in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Washington.

Using the “Social Competence Scale,” teachers participating in the study were asked to score each child on things such as “cooperates with peers”, “is good at understanding feelings” and “is able to resolve problems on own.”

In July of 2015, after researchers had tracked over twenty years’ data, those study results were published, and the findings indicated that the teacher’s rankings on social skills were often prophetic. The scores of children in these social areas correlated with the number of arrests a child was likely to have had by age 25, whether they graduated from college, had stable employment, and/or lived in public housing or received other assistance.

Back in the USA News Story: Social Skills for Success.

What the study indicates is that a child's social and emotional skills, those so-called ‘soft skills’ could be valuable indicators of a person’s future success. Children who scored high in these social and emotional skills were four times more likely to graduate from college. They were less likely to have had criminal activity, and less likely to be dependent on aid programs as adults.

What About Common Core?

On the academic learning side, the Common Core standards have rolled out across the nation to standardize the curriculum in reading and math. The goal is for students to be learning the same thing at the same time from state to state.

At first, it might seem that Common Core and Social and Emotional Learning would be at odds, but in fact, they work well in tandem. The Greater Good Science Center, based at University of California, Berkeley, explains further, using math as an example:

"Problem-solving (particularly word problems) is for many students the most challenging part of math. Often students will take one look at a problem and decide that it’s too hard without even trying—especially those with 'math phobia.' This is where social-emotional skills can help.

Students need to first trust in their ability to solve a problem (self-efficacy) and then work towards that goal. They must be able to focus on the problem rather than get distracted by what the kid on the other side of the room is doing. If they get stuck, students must manage their stress-levels by regulating their emotions and, if necessary, ask for help. Staying optimistic throughout the process will help them persevere to the end."

As schools begin to focus more and more on Common Core, many educators are realizing that social competence - conversation skills, ability to regulate emotions and work with others - should be a key foundation of the curriculum.

Social skills work in tandem with intellectual skills. Professor Mark Greenburg, Professor of Psychology at Penn State and author of the aforementioned study, put it well:

“These early abilities, especially the ability to get along with others, are the abilities that make other kids like you, and make teachers like kids. And when kids feel liked, they’re more likely to settle down and pay attention, and keep out of the principal’s office, and reap the benefits of being in a classroom. And this builds over time; it’s like a cascade. They become more bonded with peers and healthy adults and they become more bonded to school as an institution, and all those skills lead them, independent of their I.Q., to be less at risk for problems.”

The Home Link

Schools are focusing more and more on social and emotional learning, which is a good thing. But the study indicated that it’s the skills children have coming into school that will help prepare them for success.

That means that the work of learning these skills starts before Kindergarten, when parents are their child’s primary teachers. Children begin learning problem solving, conversation skills, and conflict resolution long before they are in formal school.

Back in the USA News Story: Social Skills for Success.

The good news is that this work doesn’t need to be flashcards of feelings or manners drills. CASEL has also created a toolkit for parents to help them practice social skills with their children. The ideas that are listed are things that come naturally to many parents.

Taking time to talk to your kids about their day or to tell them about yours, helps develop these skills. Children also learn a lot through their play, so the game of grocery store or restaurant that they want to play is also a role play that they are using to figure out  how social situations work.

We can still daydream about our kids’ futures and the successes they’re going to have. By valuing their social and emotional development as much as their academic development, we are taking steps to help them get to that success AND to have the emotional development that provides the ability to be happy.

As we raise the next generation of teachers, doctors, and entrepreneurs, what better goal can we have?


Other Articles of Interest:

Is Common Core Failing Before It Even Begins?

Cheating the Test, Cheating American Students

A Lesson in History: Remembering the Power of a Simple Pencil

Newsflash Public Education Has Always Been a Form of Control


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