Although preschool can add that extra stimulation and fun to a child’s life, studies show that it is not the way to go if you want your child to learn how to socialise.
So how can you teach your child how to socialise?
In order to learn how to socialise, children need loving, sensitive social tutors – in other words, they need adults who can:
- understand the causes and effects of emotions
- see things from a child’s perspective
- interpret the emotions of others
- match social interactions to a child’s developmental level
- describe emotions verbally
- regulate their own emotions
- appreciate the long-term consequences of social acts
Obviously your child’s peers will not be able to do any of this. That is why parents or sensitive adult caregivers are the best people to help a child learn how to socialise.
How can parents teach their children social skills?
According to Parenting Science, there are several things we can do:
1. Teach our children about emotions
We need to teach our children how to talk about their emotions and how it makes they feel. This can be done by talking about our emotions. One thing we’re always telling Gavin when he ignores people is something along the lines of: “When you ignore Ah Kong, you make him very sad.” Ah Kong will then put on an expression of sadness to further emphasise the point.
There are plenty of other great resources that can be used to help a child understand feelings. In Gavin’s case, I’ve used Signing Time and the Thomas and Friends stories to teach him about feelings. I’m also pleased to note that he has been able to show empathy towards other children in distress (or at least it appeared to me to be empathy).
2. Maintain an intimate loving relationship with your child
“When kids see, on a daily basis, that they can rely on you for support, they are emotionally secure. They adapt more easily to new social situations. They also develop their capacity for empathy-—a key ingredient for preschool social skills. In studies conducted at the University of Wisconsin, four year olds with secure attachment relationships showed higher levels of empathy than did peers with insecure attachments.”
One of the recommendations for developing and maintaining and intimate loving relationship with a child is to practice attachment parenting.
Despite having practice many attachment parenting principles since Gavin was born, I still felt a need to assess whether Gavin was securely attached to me. There is a test called the “Strange Situation” involving mother and child. The reaction of the child to the strange situation is then assessed to determine what type of attachment he has with his mother.
The Strange Situation Test
“To test a child’s attachment “style,” researchers put the child and her mother (these studies almost always focus on the mother) alone in an experimental room.
The room has toys or other interesting things in it, and the mother lets the child explore the room on her own.
After the child has had time to explore, a stranger enters the room and talks with the mother. Then the stranger shifts attention to the child. As the stranger approaches the child, the mother sneaks away.
After several minutes, the mother returns. She comforts her child and then leaves again. The stranger leaves as well.
A few minutes later, the stranger returns and interacts with the child.
Finally, the mother returns and greets her child.”
The child’s behaviour is then classified under one of four different attachment types:
“Securely-attached children: Free exploration and happiness upon mother’s return.
The securely-attached child explores the room freely when Mom is present. He may be distressed when his mother leaves, and he explores less when she is absent. But he is happy when she returns. If he cries, he approaches his mother and holds her tightly. He is comforted by being held, and, once comforted, he is soon ready to resume his independent exploration of the world. His mother is responsive to his needs. As a result, he knows he can depend on her when he is under stress (Ainsworth et al 1978).
Avoidant-insecure children: Little exploration and little emotional response to mother
The avoidant-insecure child doesn’t explore much, and he doesn’t show much emotion when his mother leaves. He shows no preference for his mother over a complete stranger. And, when his mother returns, he tends to avoid or ignore her (Ainsworth et al 1978).
Resistant-insecure (or “ambivalent”) children: Little exploration, great separation anxiety, and ambivalent response to mother upon her return.
Like the avoidant child, the resistant-insecure child doesn’t explore much on her own. But unlike the avoidant child, the resistant child is wary of strangers and is very distressed when her mother leaves. When the mother returns, the resistant child is ambivalent. Although she wants to re-establish close proximity to her mother, she is also resentful—even angry—at her mother for leaving her in the first place. As a result, the resistant child may reject her mother’s advances (Ainsworth et al 1978).
Disorganized-insecure children. Little exploration and confused response to mother.
The disorganized child may exhibit a mix of avoidant and resistant behaviors. But the main theme is one of confusion and anxiety. (Main and Solomon 1986). Disorganized-insecure children are at risk for a variety of behavioral and developmental problems.”
Although I haven’t exactly done the test with Gavin, based on past experiences, I think I feel comfortable to say that he is securely attached. One of the difficulties I find with regards to responding to Gavin’s cries now that he is older is related to the cause of the crying. When he was little, I would always hold him when he cried and wanted me.
Now that he is displaying a stubborn streak of behaviours – which often lead to crying when he can’t get his way, I find myself ambivalent about whether to hold him when he cries or ignore him because he has been disobedient. Sometimes I hold him and wait until his has finished crying before talking to him about his behaviour, and at other times, I refuse to pick him up – although I usually tell him why he isn’t being held. Admittedly, I have no system for deciding when I practice which.
So here’s my question to other parents – how do you handle such situations?
Okay, this post is getting a tad long so we’ll write more about negating the negative effects of preschool later…