Did you know that kindergartners who share, cooperate and help are more likely to succeed later in life?
That's exactly what researchers from Pennsylvania State University found when they analyzed 753 children in Durham, N.C., Seattle, Nashville and rural Pennsylvania.
Specifically, they evaluated kindergartners on various social behaviors - including their ability to resolve peer problems, listen to others, share materials, cooperate and be helpful. The research team monitored the students until they turned 25.
The study found that children who were more likely to share or be helpful in kindergarten were also more likely to obtain higher education and hold full-time jobs nearly two decades later. Students who lacked these social competency skills were more likely to face more negative outcomes by age 25, including substance abuse problems, challenges finding employment or run-ins with the law.
Utilizing a five-point scale, researchers assessed each child's social interaction with other children. Overall, their findings showed that a higher rating for social competency as a kindergartner was significantly associated with all five of the outcomes studied.
The study controlled for the effects of poverty, race, having teenage parents, family stress, neighborhood crime, and for the children's aggression and reading levels in kindergarten. Still, the researchers found that for every one-point increase in a student's social competency score, he or she was:
Twice as likely to graduate from college;
54 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma;
46 percent more likely to have a full-time job by age 25.
For every one-point decrease in the child's score, he or she had a:
64 percent higher chance of having spent time in juvenile detention;
67 percent higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood;
52 percent higher rate of binge-drinking;
82 percent higher rate of recent marijuana usage;
82 percent higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing at age 25.
"The good news is that social and emotional skills can improve," says Damon Jones, Ph.D., senior research associate at Pennsylvania State and lead author of this study. "This research by itself doesn't prove that higher social competence can lead to better outcomes later on. But when combined with other research, it is clear that helping children develop these skills increases their chances of success in school, work and life."
High-quality relationships and rich social interactions in the home, school and community prepare children for the future. Research has shown this for years, but this study reinforces it. Never underestimate the importance of stability in the life of a child.
From parents and extended family to child care providers and neighbors, everybody can help young children develop these social-emotional skills.
So, how often do you provide children in your care the opportunity to:
Solve their own problems (within the reason);
Understand other people's feelings;
Share with others;
Express themselves appropriately with direction;
Listen and follow instructions; and/or
Cooperate with others without being prompted?
Clearly, providing these opportunities is beneficial, far beyond kindergarten. Although it may be easier for adults to make these things happen for the kids, easy is not always best. Step back and see what they can do.