Liz Szabo and Greg Toppo
Parents who want their kids to succeed have been known to play Mozart in the nursery and quiz their preschoolers with flash cards.
A new study suggests these parents might want to go back to the basics by teaching children to share and take turns.
Kindergartners with strong social and emotional skills were more likely than their peers to succeed academically and professionally, according to a 20-year study that followed more than 750 children until age 25.
Youngsters whose kindergarten teachers gave them the highest scores on “social competence” were more likely than other kids to graduate high school on time, earn a college degree and hold full-time jobs. Social competence involves more than making friends, according to the study, published in theAmerican Journal of Public Health. Teachers rated kids on the ability to cooperate, resolve conflicts, listen to others’ points of view, give suggestions without being bossy and other skills.
Kids with weaker social skills were more likely to develop substance abuse problems, be unemployed, get arrested, live in public housing or receive public assistance, according to the study, which included children from low-income neighborhoods in Nashville; Seattle; Durham, N.C.; and central Pennsylvania.
Children with poor social skills in kindergarten are by no means a lost cause, pediatrician Dina Lieser said. The study provides a hopeful message because it’s possible to improve social skills throughout childhood, said Lieser, chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ council on early childhood, who wasn’t involved in the study.
A growing number of studies point to the importance of early childhood experiences in shaping the brain and later behavior. A 2011 study found that people who showed more self-control as preschoolers were healthier and wealthier by age 32, even after researchers considered influential factors such as IQ and social class.