Posted in Elementary Education Preparation

Social Competence Part 2: Young Children

Social Incompetence

In the course of my observations of young children behavior, I have noticed a lack of understanding of distributive justice and how to effectively and appropriately solve problems. For example, Hudson was playing an alphabet game at a table with several other children. There were countless copies of each letter for the children to use, but when one of the children reached for a certain letter, Hudson quickly and firmly established that the letter was his. This example shows that Hudson did not understand that objects, such as letters in an alphabet game, can and should be distributed equally between those who are participating in the game. There were clearly several other copies of the same letter. Hudson, had he understood distributive justice, would have been able to share and divide the letters so that each child had equal amounts.

not-sharingFurthermore, Hudson showed a level of inability to solve problems in effective and appropriate ways. At one point, he and another boy were playing with the blocks together. Every time Hudson placed a block on the building they were constructing, the other boy took it off and replaced it with a block of his own. Hudson’s solution to this problem was knocking the other boy’s blocks down – eventually demolishing the entire structure. Obviously the boy was not happy with Hudson’s reaction. Hudson, had he understood the principles of effective problem solving, could have asked the boy nicely if he could help, simply built something of his own, or found a more appropriate and agreeable solution.

Social Competence

I observed impressive levels of social competence in some of the children, particularly in emotional regulation and delaying gratification. I was surprised by Ayden’s ability to control his emotional reaction to a situation he did not like. While the children were all participating in a group activity, Ayden was talking and goofing off with one of his buddies. The teacher asked him several times to stop talking and to settle down. When his behavior persisted, the teacher asked him to move away from his friend. I could tell by the expression on his face that Ayden did not want to move and was unhappy about moving from his friend. But he reluctantly did as he was told. He could have continued to pout and sulk, but instead he quickly put a smile back on his face and jumped back into the activity with enthusiasm. This showed me that, despite his age, Ayden already has a remarkable ability to control his emotions.

Abby also demonstrated social competence in her ability to delay gratification. The final group activity was learning how to make apple pie. When the children understood the process, they excitedly went to their tables to make their own pies. Abby was the first one to her table, and I could tell that she was eager to make her pie. However, she saw the others arriving at the table and decided to wait to have her pie until everyone else had theirs. She even helped the teacher pass out pies to the other children before finally claiming her own. Abby, like many other children would have done, could have thought only of herself and grabbed the first pie she saw. However, she recognized that the others were just as excited as she, and so she waited for her pie until all the other children had been served.

Real Life Application

shutterstock_100149449-300x217Clearly, children cannot and should not be expected to understand and apply the same principles of social etiquette on the same level as adolescents or adults. They are still learning about themselves and others and are developing knowledge of what is appropriate behavior and what is not. For example, parents and/or teachers should celebrate over the ability a child has to work together with others to build something with blocks. They should and rejoice when children refrain from hitting others when they will not share a toy. This shows that a child is learning appropriate social behavior. Adolescents, on the other hand, should be expected to do such things. Social competence for an adolescent might be demonstrated in their ability to reach out to a shy individual and include them in his or her peer group. They can also use past experiences to comfort a friend who is going through a difficult time, or demonstrate other behaviors that require deeper understanding of healthy social characteristics. Children, because they are so young and tender, cannot possibly develop that understanding without time, experience, and instruction from older individuals.

People develop socially over time. As they learn from their own experiences, the experiences of others, and the instruction of parents, teachers, and peers, they will begin to understand the principles behind appropriate social behavior. Characteristics that facilitate socially competent behavior can be found in individuals at numerous stages of life. They can appear in early childhood and, if one is steered along the right trajectory, can continue to develop and increase throughout one’s life.



Born and raised in Georgia. Sixth of ten chidren. LDS/Mormon. Attending BYU. Studying elementary education. Participate on the track and field team.

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