Millennial parents believe in beginning early to raise their children well so they don’t get left on the sidelines while other kids are involved in playing the game. They also believe that life skills are what helps their kids stay in the game, whether they’re learning, playing or choosing friends. So what are life skills? Life skills are ways we learn, through experience and teaching, to manage our behavior in and outside of our families. Bottom line: life skills develop socio-emotional competence.
This kind of competence, however, doesn’t come naturally to kids. It gets learned and absorbed over time as children watch those around them live according to the societal and community norms that are valued by their families. It isn’t second nature because it involves facing hundreds of choices a day regarding what to do about what your body, mind, peers, family and teachers all expect of you, all by the time you are in kindergarten. They start learning their life skills way before school, through everyday moments with you. As you take preschoolers food shopping, they watch you make choices (healthy or not), look at prices, compare items, talk about why this brand and not that brand, how you treat the staff at the store, handle their demands for yet more cookies, greet a friend, use your cell phone and so on, making the outing a veritable classroom of socio-emotional competence, or not. Here are the skills that children usually develop before they begin kindergarten.
Body Management– Dressing and undressing by themselves (while beginning to choose appropriately for weather and expected activities), using the toilet, hand washing, using simple utensils with meals, scissors and pencils for crafts and drawing activities and developing rudimentary keyboard skills.
Social interaction Management – Play is the training for social-emotional competence, and the ability to play with children like and unlike oneself is a vital skill (allowing for usual preference for same-sex peers). Language fluency (correct pronouns, verb tenses) helps play achieve its goal of expressing, enjoying and understanding the imaginary and pretend scenarios that five-year-olds use to figure out how the world works. The abilities to wait their turn, to think before acting and know how to talk to adults are expected (and incredibly useful) skills by kindergarten.
Information Management – Kindergarteners need to be able to follow their teacher’s instructions in order to acquire knowledge through actively listening. Concentrating on a single task (more successful if it’s of the child’s choosing) for longer periods of time (usually twice as long) than a preschooler can make the task more rewarding and informative. The longer the interruption is forestalled, the stronger the coping mechanism becomes. Print awareness, hunger for new words, sight and sound knowledge of the alphabet are expected early literacy skills.
Emotion Management – Once the “preschool storm” has passed through, many kids are usually more even-keeled kids by the time they turn five. That doesn’t mean they don’t modify or eliminate the truth occasionally to avoid feeling guilty or being disciplined. They can sometimes identify in words what they, or their peers, are feeling, but when they are upset, they usually require some support and clarification from adults.
Remember, the separation of these traits into categories is for clarity only as they are by no means distinct in the growing child. Also, giving children appropriate choices helps them become better decision makers and more socially-emotionally competent.