10 Reasons Why Kindergarten Helpers Succeed in Life

July 18, 2019

10 Reasons Why Kindergarten Helpers Succeed in Life

Can a young child’s social interactions predict future success in life?  Experts say, “Yes.”

In a 2015 study, researchers found that prosocial behaviors such as cooperation and empathy are “significantly and uniquely predictive” of a child’s likelihood to graduate from high school and college, and to maintain stable employment thereafter. 

These findings offer compelling evidence that “non-cognitive” skills are a necessary part of a child’s upbringing.  However, the question remains…

Why would social behavior be prognostic of academic success, more so than reading, math or any other childhood ability?

At Kid Spa Austin, our philosophy is that certain personality traits and learned behaviors are foundational to both social competence and individual achievement.   Therefore, when a Kindergartener demonstrates prosocial behavior, it is an indication that:

1.)  The child has certain predispositions for high achievement, and/or –

2.)  The child has already started to develop essential learning habits.

In this article, we will explain how our top-10 learning characteristics and skills are observable through social interactions.

Predispositions

The first five qualities on our list are attributes that are commonly used to describe gifted children.  Parents of gifted (high-potential) children often report that from a very early age, their child showed signs of intense focus, a need to know how and why things work, creative aptitude, high energy levels and extreme independence.  These same characteristics can also help children relate to one another more effectively… for example:

–  Awareness – Before a child can offer a hug to their friend or run to hold the door for their teacher, they must first be aware of their surroundings and attentive to social cues such as a sad expression or slumped shoulders. Likewise, to maintain friendships, a child must be conscious of how their own behavior affects others.

Curiosity – A curious child is genuinely interested in learning about everything… and everyone. They are typically open to gaining new experiences and making new friends.  Curious children may initially need guidance on asking appropriate questions, but in time, their willingness to listen and learn from others makes them popular playmates.

–  Imagination – Children are often encouraged to “think of a new way to play” when a coveted toy becomes the subject of debate. A child with a powerful imagination has a natural advantage for coming up with effective solutions for resolving this type of conflict, and allowing everyone to participate happily.

–  Drive – A helpful child is usually motivated by intrinsic goals, such as winning favor with their teacher and peers. Over time, a positive self-image can become the driving influence for all of the child’s endeavors.  Not only are these driven children more likely to become self-disciplined, but they are also more likely to avoid risky behaviors that interfere with their positive self-image.

–  Autonomy – Some children are determined to figure things out for themselves. They are confident in their personal ability to take on new challenges and are among the first of their peers to master new skills.  As a result, these independent-minded little people are likely to win the admiration of friends and classmates, and they often become sought-after advisors.

 

Learned Behaviors           

While the human brain is itself a complex machine, the process of brain development can be understood in fairly simple terms.  Effectively, it is as if we are born with a generic framework of brain functions but no predefined set of skills or knowledge.  Through experience, we test and discover the capabilities of different parts of the brain.  When we find a competency we need, we add it as a new location on our brain map. 

As we travel between relevant functions again and again, the paths between them become worn and easier to travel.  Likewise, as we relate new information to previous ideas, we learn to take shortcuts and can arrive at our destination more quickly.  These mental highways and shortcuts can be thought of as learned behaviors and skills.  When a skill becomes so easily accessible that it can be called automatically, we have successfully formed a habit.

From this perspective, it makes sense that children who form positive learning habits early on will have an easier time increasing their knowledge, skills and competencies in both social and academic settings.

–  Common Sense – As children become adept at navigating their immediate surroundings, the construct of important decisions changes from “Can I?” to “Should I?” Children who have developed common sense are able to weigh the pros and cons of their decisions— including second and third order outcomes.  The ability to make sound decisions allows children to gain the confidence and trust of their classmates, teachers and members of the community.  

–  Consideration – A critical element to problem-solving is determining what information is known and what information is not known before getting started. Children who spend time understanding problems from the outset are less likely to engage in unnecessary conflict with others.  Likewise, a considerate child aligns his/her actions to the greater goal by using kind words and engaging in cooperative problem-solving.

–  Flexibility – Flexibility in thinking is demonstrated when a child shows empathy for others. They are able to consider a situation from many angles and integrate seemingly different truths into a single, cohesive explanation.  Flexibility in thinking also allows children to filter out their own biases and approach problems in an objective manner.

–  Resilience – Children who are resilient understand that people and situations can change. They believe that if they keep trying, they will eventually succeed.  Therefore, they work to resolve conflict rather than dwell on it.  This type of thinking allows children to work through difficult situations with their peers, and also, to achieve success in their individual endeavors.

–  Temperance – When we talk about toddlers and preschoolers, we often talk about the importance of “self-regulation.” It starts with “using your words” to get what you want instead of hitting or biting.  Later, self-regulation becomes more about thoughtfully choosing your words and actions.  In time, this skill evolves into temperance… the ability to hold back instinctual responses long enough to act on a set of calculated and measured actions.

What next?

At Kid Spa Austin, we applaud the research showing that social emotional competence is a reliable predictor of success in school and in life.  Thanks to these findings, there is scientific proof that character development is an essential component of education.  However, there is still work to be done! 

As parents and educators, we must continue to ask questions and try to better understand the correlation between social/emotional competence and life-long achievement.  Only then can we fully leverage Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the refinement of existing curriculum programs.  

If you would like to see further research on Social Emotional Learning (SEL), please share this article with your fellow parents, educators and child development experts!  

About the Author

Jamie Morrissey is President of Kid Spa Austin and holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. Jamie's beliefs regarding early childhood development are heavily influenced by her background in science and technology, as well as her personal studies in psychology.

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