Today I’m going to talk about the fourth need of children: social and life skills. The other needs I’ve talked about are a sense of belonging and significance, perceptions of capability and personal power and autonomy. I find this fourth need goes hand in hand with the second need – feeling capable. Social and life skills are so important for children in every level of their development and are necessary beyond the school years and into adulthood. So much of what we need to do as parents is to teach our children these skills. In fact, our children’s self esteem comes from their skills not from being loved, praised or showered with gifts.
The great thing about this need is that children under age six want to learn these skills often before we think they are able to learn. We have all experienced the two year old who refuses to allow the adult to help but instead says emphatically, “Me do it!” Toddlers and preschoolers are watching all the time. They want to imitate what they see. What do they see? They observe the everyday activities of the adults around them.
Four year old Sebastian is a high energy boy who is often seen zooming through the classroom. He also has some issues with anger management when things don’t go his way. One day he observed me cleaning the classroom easel which gets very dirty. “Can I help?” he asked. I showed him how to put water in the bucket, use the sponge and wet cloths to scrub off the paint and then the dry towel to finish up. He went to work with a vengeance. I watched him for a while and then when I saw his level of concentration, walked away to help some other students. After quite a long time Sebastian called me over to the easel. “Look, Mrs. Bitts! I cleaned it all!” He was beaming from ear to ear. We noticed together how all the paint was removed and he had cleaned the glass bowls and paint brushes until everything looked brand new. He had wiped the water off the floor and put away the bucket and dirty cloths. He had so much pride in himself and his accomplishment.
There are so many ways that we can help young children begin to accumulate skills. As they are learning to do things for themselves and to get along with their peers they are also gaining in self confidence. The book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk describes six things we can do for our children to encourage autonomy.
- Let children make choices. By allowing our children to make limited choices when they are young we are helping them practice for more advanced choices they will be faced with as they grow older. Think about your child’s developmental stage and temperament when giving them choices – Do you want to take your bath before supper or after? Would you like to cut the bananas or wash the lettuce for dinner?
- Show respect for a child’s struggle. Just because something seems easy for us doesn’t mean it is for the child. It can also be difficult to watch our children struggle. We often want to jump in and fix the problem right away. Instead, tell them what you see – It can be hard to zip up your jacket. I find if you fold the fabric back before you try to put the zipper together it can help. You weren’t sure you wanted to jump in the water at your swim lesson today but then you found the courage.
- Don’t ask too many questions. No one likes to be pestered. Instead, let your child know you want to hear about his experience or problem when he is ready to share – I’d love to hear about your day with grandma when you want to tell me.
- Don’t rush to answer questions. Allow children to explore the answers for themselves, first – What an interesting question. Why do you think the moon looks so big tonight? I think we have a book about moons, why don’t you get it and we can look through it.
- Encourage children to use resources outside the home. This one may be better for older children but it is important to help children understand that the world is full of information – Let’s ask the dentist how often you should brush your teeth. This also helps keep you from being the heavy all the time!
- Don’t take away hope. Young children are full of ideas about what they can do and will do. Let them dream – I want a horse! So you wish you could have a horse. Tell me about it. Of course this doesn’t mean you are going to buy a horse but allowing your child to expound upon his love of horses and dream about what he would do with one allows him to take pleasure in dreaming, anticipating and planning.
What I want you to take from these posts about the four needs of children is awareness and intention. Be aware of the needs of your children. They are the needs you have as well! Think about a few things you can do to help your children with these needs. None of us is perfect and we will all fall short as parents (usually at least once a day!) but by taking the time to think about these needs you are on the path to giving your child a better head start in school and in life.