Teaching Social Skills and Effective Communication- It’s never too early

Let’s face it, today parents are afraid to be strict with their children. Even 30 years ago, the adage “children should be seen and not heard” was the rule. Not anymore, not that we are promoting stifling a child’s need to communicate. However, how many times have we seen children interrupt their parents, say rude things to their parents, ignore guests or behave rudely to them, or just simply fail to demonstrate correct courtesy to others? How many times have we heard children use incorrect language or grammar and not be corrected by teachers or parents? How many times have we heard children express ideas without proper sentence structure or organization of thought, perhaps only using gestures and grunting noises? Are we doing these children a disservice by not teaching good communication practices and social skills to children? Is it because parents are afraid of setting guidelines for proper behavior for fear that it will affect their self-esteem? Clearly, the goal of this article is not to promote silent children, it is to promote children who communicate effectively and demonstrate skills which allow them to interact socially with adults and other children.

Too often, parents are afraid to correct their children for fear that they will negatively affect their child’s self-esteem. As a result, they allow children to speak as they wish without gentle guidance towards effective communication. Ultimately the children suffer from this neglect. They do not learn courteous behavior, appropriate use of language or social skills. Not possessing correct social skills, the child’s self-esteem may even suffer (Oswalt, N.p.).  The inability to make friends and feel comfortable with peers can weaken a child’s self-esteem. Such children would possibly be shunned by their peers and respond by either becoming bullies, or by becoming withdrawn, preferring to spend time with indulgent adults.

An excellent list of 10 ways to develop social skills in young children was developed by Community Coordinated Child Care:

  1. Encourage your child to play with other children.  Invite a neighbor, classmate or cousin over to play for a couple of hours.  Keep the visit short and don’t leave the children on their own.  Be available to help children     get started with a game.
  2. Play games with your child so he learns how to share and take turns.
  3. Teach your child the words he needs to express himself.  “Can I play with the puzzle now?”  Remind your child to “use his words” to express what he wants to reduce whining, crying and aggressive behaviors.
  4. Teach compromise to a preschooler by modeling it regularly.  “We’ll play hide and seek now and later we can play Candyland.”  “Since we bought grapes last week for you, today we’ll buy peaches for Louis.”
  5. Preschoolers who hit or use unacceptable language may do so because they see adults around them acting aggressively.  It is important for parents and caregivers to behave appropriately if they expect the children around them to behave.
  6. Your preschooler’s anger may get out of control because he cannot verbalize what he wants or needs.  If another child grabs a toy from Maria, she needs to be taught the words to say, “I am playing with the doll now;  please give it back to me,” instead of hitting or grabbing the toy.
  7. Give your child extra time to speak, allowing him time to collect his thoughts and think about what he can say.
  8. Do not give in to a child who whines or acts aggressively to get what he wants.  Negative behavior is often a call for attention.  Do not react to every negative behavior with attention, yelling, and intense emotions, which only rewards your child with a sense of power, attention and involvement.
  9. Compliment your child when he does the right thing and acts appropriately.
  10. Use distraction to help your child move away from the situation that is causing a problem.

Points 3, 4, 6, 7 & 8 above clearly show how closely linked are communication and social skills. Once a child is trained to ‘use your words’ and negotiate using effective language, both issues are addressed. Even very small children can be trained to say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’, greet people with ‘hi’ and respond appropriately to adults. Reinforcement about appropriate body language can also be used (see YouTube video above) to help children understand how to effectively communicate with others.

Ultimately, a child who possesses good social skills and communication skills will function better in school, experiencing greater success. Such a child will have the confidence to believe in himself and his ideas and be more creative. All these skills are closely linked to success in life.


Goddard, Roger. “Building Social Skills.” Building Blocks for Young Children. Community Coordinated Child Care, n.d. Web. 18 June 2013. http://www.ccccunion.org/PDFsforwebsite/BuildingSocialSkillsBrochure.pdf .

Oswalt, Angela. “Guidelines for Correcting or Disciplining Children – Self Esteem.” Community Counseling Services, Inc.. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2013. http://www.hsccs.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=37619&cn=96.

Parker, Wayne. “Child Behavior – Setting Limits for Your Children.” Fatherhood at About.com:  Resources and Support for Fathers. About.com Guide, n.d. Web. 18 June 2013. http://fatherhood.about.com/od/effectivediscipline/a/settinglimits.html

Walker-Thomas, Tammy. “Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard: a Disciplinary Standard for the 21st Century?.” Yahoo Voices. N.p., 14 Mar. 2009. Web. 18 June 2013. http://voices.yahoo.com/children-seen-not-heard-disciplinary-2807835.html.

School Readiness

There exist several different schools of thought regarding what constitutes school readiness. Some sources believe that school readiness includes academic knowledge such as alphabet and number acquisition and if these skills have not been acquired, the child should be retained for another year to give them time to acquire them. Other sources feel that a child who has acquired reading skills prior to entering school may actually be disadvantaged. Certain other authorities strongly believe that school readiness should be based on calendar age since all children develop at different rates whereas other authorities feel that the entry assessment on school readiness should be the criteria used for admission. The one area all child psychologists and child development specialists agree on are the non-academic skills the child should possess prior to beginning school.
Social development is a primary skill which all specialists in child development agree on. By the time a child enters school, he should understand about turn-taking, sharing, team work, cooperation with peers and adults. As every parents knows, the following rules are true for most toddlers:
• If I like it, it’s mine.
• If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
• If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
• If I’m doing or building something, all the pieces are mine.
• If it looks just like mine, it is mine.
• If I saw it first, it’s mine.
• If it’s broken, it’s yours.
Anyone who’s a parent or worked with small children will be smiling by now. These are characteristics which must be redirected into the ability to share, to cooperate, and to take turns. An effective early childhood education program will create opportunities to school children in these skills through group work, team play, role play and exploration in cooperative groupings.

Emotional development is another skill area all psychologists and child development specialists agree on. A child who is ready to enter school needs to have the ability to separate easily from the primary care-givers. She needs to be able to control emotional outbursts and understand others’ feelings. She should be able to demonstrate appropriate responses to emotional feelings of others. Research has shown that this type of understanding can, indeed, be developed in very young children. As the purple line on the graph on child development below shows, emotional control can develop very early – before the age of four years. The blue line illustrates peer social skills and shows that they can also begin very early. It is clear, therefore, that working with very young children to control their emotions is possible, beneficial and also essential, in order for them to function effectively in school. A quality pre-school program will actively train small children in self-control, celebrating positive behaviors and gently redirecting inappropriate behaviors. It will also provide children with opportunities to do things independently, such as tying shoes, doing up buttons, etc. This independence will also promote development in fine motor skills and also self-esteem.
graph brain development no title
Self-esteem is another area which needs to be established very young and will impact on all aspects of a child’s learning. All educational specialists and child psychologists agree that this is an essential factor in a child’s overall well-being. A child with a healthy self-esteem will not resort to bullying nor be easily bullied. They will recognize appropriate social interactions with peers and be comfortable executing them. They will be able to respond socially to peers and adults with confidence. How to foster self-esteem in an early childhood education setting? Teachers will constantly celebrate the process of the child’s endeavors, not whether or not the child has found the correct answer. They will encourage the child to explore to find solutions to problems independently and their effort and focus toward this goal will be the reason for compliments and comments on attempting to find the solution.

As we have examined these different school readiness skills, it is clear that a child is both able and also needs to acquire these skills at a very early. We will not enter into the discussion about whether or not children should be denied entry to school if these skills have not been acquired, since it is not an issue if they have been effectively exposed to situations where they are trained to acquire these skills. Any pre-school program that does not clearly have as mandate training in these skills and plan on how to achieve this should re-examine what school readiness really is.


“Emotional Development in Preschoolers: From Age 3 to 5.” WebMD – Better information. Better health.. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2013. http://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/preschooler-emotional-development.

“Kindergarten readiness: Is your child ready for school?| BabyCenter.” BabyCenter | Homepage – Pregnancy, Baby, Toddler, Kids March 2012. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.babycenter.com/0_kindergarten-readiness-is-your-child-ready-for-school_67232.bc.

“Supporting School Readiness Through Early Childhood Policy | The Urban Child Institute.” The Urban Child Institute. Version March 2013. N.p., Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/articles/research-to-policy/policy/supporting-school-readiness-through-early-childhood-policy.

“Where We Stand on School Readiness.” National Association for the Education of Young Children. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/Readiness.pdf

Dockett, Sue, and Bob Perry. “ECRP. Vol 3 No 2. Starting School: Effective Transitions.” ECRP 2001. N.p., Web. 21 May 2013. http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v3n2/dockett.html.

Maxwell, Kelly L., and Richard M. Clifford. “School Readiness Assessment.” Research in Review. National Association for the Education of Young Children, n.d. Web. 19 May 2013. http://journal.naeyc.org/btj/200401/Maxwell.pdf.

Ogletree, Earl J.. “School Readiness – the Developmental View – Christopherus Homeschool Resources.” Christopherus Homeschool Resources: Waldorf-inspired Homeschooling – Christopherus Homeschool Resources. Version Vol. 24, No. 2, 1990. N.p., Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/learning-more/articles-on-aspects-of-waldorf-education/school-readiness-the-developmental-view.html.

Rafoth, Mary Ann, Erin L. Buchanauer, Katherine Kolb Crissman, and Jennifer L. Halko. “School Readiness – Preparing Children for Kindergarten and Beyond: Information for Parents.” School and Home 2004. National Association of School Psychologists, Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.nasponline.org/resources/handouts/schoolreadiness.pdf