Children's Social Competence

Posted on August 11, 2016 by First Last
Why lots of parents complaining about their children are shy, don’t want to make new friends, had rough time in the play group or childcare? Large numbers of parents concluded that it is because my child’s personality is too shy, he or she doesn’t like public environment or engage with other children or adults. Is this correct?

Before we going through this, the first concept we have to understand is social competence, what is social competence? Social competence refers to a person’s ability to get along with other people. A child’s social competence is affected by how well she communicates with other children and with adults. A child’s views of himself or herself in relation to his or her family, peers, and the wider world also affect the social competence. Social competence includes knowing what is expected for social interactions, such as making eye contact, taking turns, listening to others, not being aggressive; understanding (or ‘reading’ other people’s facial expressions and gestures; recognizing emotions in others and oneself; and being able to communicate effectively with others, including family members, peers and adults (Parker, 1987).

In a simple understandable way of saying the concept above is social competence is a ability, similar as people learning how to swim, how to ride a bike and so on, again, it is a kind of ability, that needs to be trained and learnt. This is the misconception for large numbers of parents, who simply understand that shy equals to child’s personality and just left out the more important element – social competence.

How the social competence developed?

A child’s social development right starts from the birth. The people around the babies all have impact to them. Don’t understand it wrong, even a baby, who does understand and can observe what people doing and how they interact, and try to imitate all from language, gestures, why of communication, way of listening and so on. The only difference between babies and adults is baby cry to let caregivers know what they need and adults do both verbal and non-verbal channels.

Most children’s social skills increase dramatically during early childhood stage, so it is important to keep in mind that children of the same age may not have the same level of social competence. Research shows that children have distinct personalities and temperaments from birth. Some children may face special challenges when they interact with peers and adults. Thus it is important for parents or caregivers to have the mindset to facilitate children’s social competence learning from the early childhood stage.

A good example is that children use rough hands for snatching toys from other children. Apparently it is a stage around two years (as known ‘terrible two’), which is true, at this stage, the most effective way for children to express themselves is to use their hands just snatch what they want from others rather using verbal communication, it is part of the learning curve. However, as parents, we can not just simply ignore what has happened, a proper guidance is needed to set the foundation of social competence for children to cope with in more complex situation at daycare.

Furthermore, in a social context, how confident the parents are directly impact on what children’s confidence level. I have mentioned it to many parents that as many years of operating childcare experience in New Zealand, I can easily see what a child’s parents behave in the public and what child(ren)’s confidence level and way of interact with other children and teachers. What I found fascinating was large numbers of parents when drop off children to childcare or pick up from the childcare, just simply go in and engage to their child(ren) rather than being aware of what surrounding environment, such as what has happened? What is happening? What other children are doing? And What teachers are doing and so on. By doing this, because of limited of language understanding, children will also focus on parents’ non-verbal activities, if far too focus on children, which will somehow confuse the children and they could also interpret that my mum or dad not that confident among adults environment in the daycare for some cases. This is a good example to illustrate what we need to be doing in the public setup to demonstrate what a confident person looks like and how they act and react. This is a role modelling for children to gain social competence from real life situations.

As for a migrant, children and family members experience multiple cultures, behavior that is appropriate or effective in one culture may be less so in another culture. Children from diverse cultural and family backgrounds thus may need help in bridging their differences and in finding ways to learn from and enjoy one another. The parents, as the very first teacher, we have to keep learning as well, for a different culture, we as parents need to understand what is the mainstream core value proposition, then we can proper assist our child(ren) to learn.

Any queries or need further information, all Happy Tots staff are happy to assist, you could either call us on 0800 20 8000 or email us on

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