By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell

As parents, our jobs regarding raising children are legion. One of the most important of these is to prepare them to start school. Whether your child will enter a formal educational setting in kindergarten, pre-kindergarten or even younger, it is crucial that we provide them with the skills they will need to be successful. 

As an educator, I have worked with tens of thousands of students throughout my career. During this time, I have observed how the youngest students develop specific social skills needed for success. While these can be taught in the classroom, it is far more meaningful if these are first learned and reinforced at home. 

Children are naturally very observant and will mimic what they see and hear. That said, parents need to be aware that they will serve as their children’s role models. This is key as children begin to develop language skills. Language is an extremely powerful tool that allows children to express their thoughts and feelings. 

Amy Merritt, a former colleague of mine, best described to me how we can help. 

“As adults, we often take the understanding of words such as sad, frustrated, anxious, impatient, and shy for granted. Shouting, hitting, and tantrums are biologically pre-programmed responses to these feelings for children,” said Merritt. “As adults, we can help children overcome inappropriate responses by teaching them to instead respond with their words using phrases such as, It made me angry when you took that from me or Calling me that name made me sad.

It is critical that we teach and model these types of coping language skills to our kids. These equip children with an alternative way to respond to situations and actions by others that they do not like. These can be reinforced through daily activities such as reading stories and then discussing the feelings and actions of characters in these stories. This helps the youngest children begin to understand others and develop empathy.

When children interact, conflicts will inevitably occur even when they possess strong language skills. This provides parents another teachable opportunity concerning sharing. By showing children how they can play games together and/or by offering rewards for sharing (such as more time with a toy for the one who has to wait to use it), we help develop independent problem solvers.

Young children are also naturally egocentric. They are often impatient to tell what they know, what they have done, and what they have seen. This can create problems when they enter school and are expected to participate in discussions. Like with toys, parents need to guide their children in how to engage in group discussions. The dinner table is an excellent time to work on these skills. Parents can model taking turns telling about their day. They can also demonstrate the proper voice volume and speaking etiquette such as using words like please and thank you as well as paying compliments. 

Beyond these social skills, children should enter school with some preliminary academic skills. These include knowing their alphabet, colors, counting, animal recognition, how to write their name, birthdate, and a parent’s phone number. By the beginning of kindergarten, children should be able to dress themselves, use proper hygiene such as washing hands and blowing their nose, plus how to follow directions and safety rules.

By possessing these basic social and academic skills, children are ready to enter a more formal learning environment. They are prepared to interact with their teacher and peers in socially appropriate ways. All-in-all, by starting your children off with strong language, social and academic skills, you are setting them on the path to life-long success.

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a freelance writer and educator with over 30 years of experience. If you have questions or comments, please contact Dr. Maxwell at: 

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