Of all the skills we encourage our children to develop, social intelligence may be the most essential for predicting a fulfilling, successful life. Social intelligence is the ability to effectively negotiate interpersonal interactions and complex social environments. It involves effective communication skills, the ability to read non-verbal cues into how other people are feeling and virtues such as empathy and consideration.
Children learn appropriate behaviors by emulating adults. The easiest way to help your child learn qualities such as patience, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, and gentleness is to model these qualities in your day-to-day interactions with other people and with your children.
Preschoolers are social creatures, generally very interested in other and quick to notice and adopt social norms. They're becoming more able to control themselves, and more able to verbalize their feelings, opening up a host of options beyond for communicating and problem solving. The preschool years are a perfect opportunity to teach social habits and skills that will help them throughout their lifetime. If you would like to read a fascinating article that was recently in the New York Times about how work places are really just like preschool, click here.
It is completely natural for preschoolers to experience conflicts. Children this age usually want to have things go their way and yet have other children to play with. The ability to negotiate and compromise is honed through the conflicts that arise between toddlers. Be close by but do not intervene in a conflict until you feel that you absolutely need to. Even when you do intervene, make sure that instead of simply telling everyone what they should do, you help them empathize with each other and understand why they should behave in a particular way.
Some ways you can support the development of social intelligence in your child include:
Support their friendships. Honor and reinforce your child's developing friendships. Talk about them, remember them, create opportunities to play. Remember that children get aggravated with each other, just as adults do. It doesn't mean the end of a friendship, necessarily, just that they need help to work through the issues that come up.
Model respectful relating. Remember that your child will treat others as you treat her. Show your child respect, be tactful in the ways you talk to your child about how they are treating others, and help them work out difficulties when they play together.
Teach your child that people are important. Teach your child consideration for others. Model it for him early on, praise it, help him brainstorm to solve peer problems, and don't let your child intentionally or unintentionally disrespect another person.
Teach kids to express their needs and wants without attacking the other person. For instance:
"I don't like it when you push in front of me like that" instead of "You're mean!"
"I need a turn, too!" instead of "You're not letting me have the ball."
Help your child learn how to repair rifts in relationships. When we think about repairing relationships, we usually focus on apologizing. Giving children a chance to cool down first always works better and then ask them 'How can you fix it?'. Be sure to model apologies to your children and scaffold this process for them.
Remember, that teaching and modeling social skills is a process that takes time and patience. Stick to it - we promise you will see the results.