PUBLISHED: Sunday, September 8, 2019 by JO

Christine A. Schmidt

Published: September, 2019

Christine A. Schmidt is the owner of 2 CR Solutions, Ltd., a consulting, training, and technical assistance company for organizations that serve children birth through age 18. She has worked as a child care director, grant manager, and accreditation support staff. Schmidt is the author of The Child Care Director's Complete Guide and coauthor of Great Afterschool Programs and Spaces That WOW!

Social competency is a set of skills that provide children with the tools and abilities to successfully navigate the world around them. Developing Social Competency in Young Children looks at each of the seven Cs of social competence—communication, community building, coping, confidence, conflict resolution, control, and curiosity.

The book examines the role of the adult in designing the environment and using intentional strategies to maximize a child’s success. At the end of each skill discussed, there are parent and staff educational tips and strategies that can be used in everyday life.

Christine took the time to answer some of our questions on inspiration, community building, and parent engagement.

Christine Schmidt

What motivated you to write Developing Social Competency in Young Children?

The idea for writing this book came from my observations within the classroom and training adults within early care and education programs. During my time within these types of programs and working closely with these individuals, it became clear that the frustration of adults came directly from their children’s lack of social competency. These caring adults assumed that children at a specific age should know how to interact appropriately with other children and adults. When this became a constant request from those I taught and mentored, the idea for the book was born.

How does social competency benefit young children?

Positive social skills play a large role in determining how well children do in school, develop lasting relationships and become productive, responsible adults. Social skills are managed by the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. Since the pre-frontal cortex continues to develop until age 25, it is easy to see why social skills just don’t appear and it takes time to develop and refine them. Children traverse many environments in a given day. If children are socially competent, they can negotiate these environments and get their needs met appropriately. They can communicate effectively being both a speaker and listener. They learn to become empathic; taking other thoughts, ideas, and experiences into consideration when making friends and faced with a problem. Children can become creative and effective problem solvers. They learn to control their emotions and cope with difficult or unexpected events. Children learn to take responsibility for their own actions and decisions. Children take on specific roles that help build and support their specific community at home, school, and childcare.

What types of community building can young children engage with?

A community is defined as a group of people having common interests within a shared location. This can be a family, school, childcare etc. Within each community there are roles and responsibilities. Every person with a community should be given opportunities to help make the community successful. The successful completion of a given task within the community helps the child develop confidence. Understanding their role within a given community help children feel valued and important providing them with opportunities to develop ownership. These roles need to be age appropriate and children need to be taught what the role entails or how to effectively complete a given task.

This takes time and patience. Within a home; a child can be responsible for picking up their toys, setting the table, taking out the garbage or feeding the dog, etc. In school, a child can be responsible for following the school rules, doing and turning in their class work, and being respectful to others. In a childcare center, a child can be responsible for putting their belongings in the appropriate place, picking up their toys, following the class rules, completing their assigned job (line leader, door holder, etc.) and being respectful of others. When children learn to become an effective member of a community at an early age, they are more likely to employ these skills through adulthood.

How do environment and temperament contribute to social competency?

Environments fall into three categories: physical, temporal and interpersonal. Each of these environments are important for children to learn social skills. How these environmental elements are developed can positively or negatively influence how a child learns social skills. The physical environment addresses the spaces created and items within those spaces. The need for soft places, spaces to explore, and quiet spaces to talk to friends or listen to music, helps children play and learn independently or with a peer, build friendships, and develop coping mechanisms. The temporal environment addresses schedules and learning opportunities that supports a child’s needs. Providing a consistent schedule for children helps develop a safe reliable environment where children know what to expect. Within the schedule, opportunities for learning activities are intentionally planned to develop and hone social skills. The interpersonal environment addresses the establishment and maintenance of positive relationships and interactions with and between children, staff, parents and the community at large. Children model what they see and hear, so when an adult models positive relationship/friendship building and intentionally plans activities that encourage positive relationships, it helps children learn how to do the same. It is the safe environment equipped with age appropriate materials and supplies including intentionally planned activities that helps children build positive social skills.

Temperament plays a role in how a child faces and interacts with an environment. Children are born with a specific temperament. Children can have a feisty temperament, not fearing anything and running headlong into a situation, confident that they will succeed. A child can also have a fearful temperament, being afraid to enter a new situation or make friends. Finally, a child can have flexible temperament where they seem to go with the flow and give in, never feeling like they get what they really want. There are situations where children can display characteristic of more than one type of temperament. The environment needs to support a child’s temperament while providing safe spaces for children to try something outside of their comfort zone in a safe nurturing place.

How does parent engagement encourage social competency in children?

Children acquire social skills through interactions with individuals. Parents who model positive social skills provide opportunities for children to learn these skills. Children are always aware of what is going on around them. They mimic what they see and hear. It is not always what you would like your child to repeat. If a strategy worked for an individual to get what they were seeking, such as a toy, a child will store that information for a future time when they would like a similar outcome. Parents are a child’s best teacher. Because adults are the mirror by which a child measures themselves, it is important that parents are aware of their own body language. Their body language can relay more than words about how they feel about a given situation.

Being present and allowing children to talk without interruption can provide a parent with a lot of information about why a child did something or reacted a specific way. Talking to children about how to control their behavior or reading stories about a child who is having difficulty controlling their behavior, sets the stage for a conversation about how a child feels when they feel out of control. Each time a parent engages with a child and provides them with an inside look at how a child feels, they afford them an opportunity for a teachable moment.

Are you working on any new projects?

I am working collaboratively with the local PBS station to craft a week-long STEM camp for preschool, and a two-week Science Camp for school-age children K-8.

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