Given the stressful educational system in Singapore, many of our children find it hard to cope with the pace. We provide this early childhood education series by Rachel Zeng to help parents better understand the development of their children and to provide the kind of care that is needed to bring up healthy and well-adjusted youngsters.
In my last contribution, I mentioned five main aspects of early childhood education: social, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional development. This instalment writeup is an elaboration on the first area of focus, namely, social development.
What is social development?
Social development refers to the ability of children to interact and bond with others around them, establishing human relations such as friendship and kinship.
The social development of a child starts off at infancy and is mainly about bonding with their parents and primary caregivers as well as anyone they may come into frequent contact with. As they mature, they begin to interact with each other through play. In Singapore, parents often associate play with empty fun, a waste of time that could be better used.
Maybe its because the education is so exam-oriented that parents are so anxious that they make their children spend all their time and energy in front of books. What they don’t realise is that play forms a very important function in the development of young children.
The importance of play
As toddlers begin to play alongside each other engaging in solitary play, they interact directly with inanimate objects. This is what we term parallel play. Although during this stage of play toddlers often appear to be ignoring each other, they are highly aware of the presence of others around them.
It is during this period that they begin to observe and imitate as well as form initial opinions about each other. Sometimes, one will reach out to snatch the object another toddler is playing or kick the one playing next to him.
Such behaviour should be gently stopped but must not be seen as “naughtiness”. This is the only way the toddler interacts with another because the concept of the needs and feelings of others has yet to be established.
It is through such experimentation as well as the guidance that caregivers provide that they come to understand concepts such as sharing, showing consideration to others as well as the emotions of another individual besides themselves.
When they slowly mature to engage in cooperative play, usually in pairs and then later forming small groups, young children start to learn more about social concepts such as trust, sharing, being considerate of others as well as cooperating with each other to achieve a common goal.
At the same time, they start to participate in contributing to discussions on how a game or an activity should be carried out. During such a discussion, arguments may arise and tiny fists may start flying. The role of parents and educators in such instances should ideally be one of facilitation and not reprimand.
Dealing with conflicts
In my experience so far as an educator, when my own students start to engage in physical fights, I normally separate them by putting them in separate chairs. The rest of the children come to undertake the role of arranging the chairs for the parties involved and it is amusing observing their reaction which has become automatic.
Once the angry parties have been seated, a series of questions will be asked so as to let the children vent their anger verbally through the answering of questions. After one or two questions, the children will start arguing and debating with each other about the rights and the wrongs.
Through questions like “What could you have done if you don’t like what she was doing?” and “So do you mean to say that someone else can also kick you just because they don’t like what you are doing?”, they gradually start to admit that other actions could be done to solve the problems instead of getting physical.
In fact, conflicts among children should not be seen negatively by adults but should be used to help children understand the feelings of others. It is by our facilitation and guidance that they will eventually develop a sense of empathy. Conflicts, just as much as play, are part of social interaction and as parents, care givers and teachers, we should not neglect or dismiss such opportunities and simply punish the children for being “naughty”.
By doing so and judging children based on our “adult” view of socializing, we might just end up having children who “behave themselves” for the sake of conformity and for the sake of pleasing people. Is that what we really want?
It is the responsibility of every parent, caregiver or teacher to observe and take note of their charges in the way that will facilitate and guide instead of punish and force. To force a child to play with another when he/she is not ready might, in many cases, lead to the child being more withdrawn or picking up the habit of simply pleasing the adults by following their instructions.
The same thing goes with apologies. We should not force a child to apologise to another without first making them realize their mistakes before initiating an apology.
Do you want the child to become someone who does things our of sincerity or do you want the child to become someone who lives by the way of subserviently pleasing others?
Rachel Zeng is a pre-school educator. She contributed this piece for the SDP website.