Kindergarteners raise their hands in the classroom

7 Social Emotional Skills Your Child Should Have Before They Start Kindergarten

When parents wonder if their child is ready for kindergarten, they are often thinking of academic expectations that they will need to meet in order to be successful. Although this is important,  studies show that a child’s social emotional skills have more of an impact on their overall success than anything else.

A fascinating study from Johns Hopkins University observed 9,000 children in kindergarten and then again in the 4th grade. They found that students who were behind in social emotional skills when they started school were 80% more likely to have been held back a grade, 80% more likely to require special education services, and up to 7 times more likely to have been expelled or suspended.

Conversely, a study conducted by the American Journal of Public Health showed that children who displayed appropriate social emotional skills by kindergarten were twice as likely to attain a college degree and 46% more likely to hold a full-time job by early adulthood.

So, what are the social emotional skills your child should have by the time they begin school? Although there are many, you can categorize most skills down to the following:

  1. Empathy - Empathy is the ability to sense others’ emotions and put oneself in the others’ shoes. Having empathy will make it easier for a child to respect boundaries, listen to others, cooperate, and have patience.
  2. Cooperation - This is your child’s ability to work in and with a group. From participating in a lesson to getting along on the playground, it includes things like sharing, waiting turns, and following rules.
  3. Respecting boundaries - This includes keeping hands to self, asking permission to use things, and not taking others’ property.
  4. Listening to others - Following directions, listening to another person share their feelings, and accepting “no” as an answer all fall under the umbrella of listening.
  5. Controlling emotions/Impulse control -  Teach your child that having big feelings and impulses are natural, but that there are expectations to how we react to those things. For example, it’s ok to be mad and not want to talk, but it’s never ok to hit or throw things. It’s ok to be excited about telling your story, but it’s not ok to interrupt or yell.
  6. Accepting consequences - Life is full of consequences. Whether it’s a regulated consequence, (like a speeding ticket,) or a natural consequence, (like being cold because you lost your jacket,) functioning adults must understand that cause and effect are a fact of life. This is something a child, too, must come to terms with early on. Children who cannot accept consequences will have trouble accepting logic and reality in the future.
  7. Patience - This falls under the umbrella of impulse and emotional control, but deserves its own category because it can also be extended to having patience with one’s self. For example, it’s ok if you don’t get something on the first try, you have to have the patience to keep practicing to achieve success.

The absolute best way to teach your child these vital life skills is to practice them yourself. Empathize with your child. Respect their boundaries. Cooperate with your spouse. Show patience with a store clerk. Surround them with people who are emotionally well-regulated. Modeling is the number one way in which children learn because they are constantly observing. Let the world they observe be filled with positive role models and see how easily they become one themselves!

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