A new study suggests that children's social skills—and not other possible predictors, such as aggression—in kindergarten are a good predictor of their success at age 25 years. Using data from the Fast Track Project, a study designed to reduce aggression in high-risk children, researchers studied the correlation of social skills with later outcomes in the two groups that had not received the Fast Track intervention: high-risk controls (n = 367) and controls who weren't high risk (n = 386).
Teachers rated the social competency of the kindergarteners, who were of low socioeconomic status, using the Prosocial–Communication Skills subscale of the Social Competence Scale. Examples of early social competency included cooperating with peers, being helpful to others, and resolving problems by oneself. Other factors recorded were sex, race, socioeconomic status, life stressors, whether the mother was an adolescent when the child was born, the neighborhood, letter–word identification, externalizing behavior (aggression), and acceptance of authority. Researchers then surveyed the participants when they reached approximately age 25 to determine what had become of them.
Early prosocial skills in kindergarten were associated with an increased likelihood of graduating from college and having a stable job, compared with having less-developed social skills. Conversely, less social competence correlated with a greater chance of being arrested, a higher risk of alcohol dependence, and a higher risk of receiving public assistance, in comparison with greater social competence. The study suggests that social and emotional skills are as important as cognitive skills in determining long-term outcomes. Fortunately, young children are malleable and open to learning social skills. The study authors write that measuring prosocial skills in young children “could be important in planning interventions and curricula to improve these social competencies.”
“I would love to see school nurses help to develop tools to identify students with low social skills early on,” says Nina Fekaris, president-elect of the National Association of School Nurses.
School nurses could also teach parents about skills that support the social and emotional development of kids at home. “School nurses are a nonthreatening connection between schools and families,” says Fekaris.—Carol Potera
Jones DE, et al. Am J Public Health
2015 Jul 16:e1-e8 [Epub ahead of print].