Social competence or the view of it has been an area we have put a focus on over the past few decades.  Whether we called it behaviour management, positive guidance or…..discipline.  As well as the changing terminology, there has also been many parent and teacher alike on either side of the fence and some even calling for a ‘balanced’ approach to guiding behaviour.


As our practices and views of early childhood has evolved, so to has our perception of behaviour, what is driving that behaviour and how we as adults and teachers can respond to these ‘drivers.’


How children view play, learning, themselves, others and the world in which they live are now considered to be driven by natural dispositions or urges.  These dispositions are as much apart of who they are as their DNA.  These inherent dispositions are very much shaped, deepened, explored and impacted by their external experiences – which are heavily influenced by us.


These influences are so powerful that they can have a life long impact on how children function and navigate their world.   The first three years of life we now know are vitally important to future success – not only academically but in all facets of life.


Social competence is very much as it sounds like – the ability to engage in social groups and experiences with other people competently.  There are a couple of important aspects to children developing social competence, one of them being communication – both verbal and non-verbal and the other is developing empathy for others.


Neither of those though or any other component that contributes to social competence can be achieved without relationships.


Relationships are the key to social competence.  Relationships either have a positive or negative impact on how children engage and interact with one another or with adults and even with other parts of their world (the physical environment, animals, food etc).


Strong relationships are the best way to support children with developing social competence.  All other ‘strategies’ will inevitably fail if the relationship between the adult/teacher and the child is weak, damaged or unsettled.  Connections between adults and children and vise versa are critical in children viewing themselves and others positively, especially when it comes to social competence and children regulating their own behaviour.


How can we expect children to view us positively, to see us as valuable to them, to have trust that we are going to be there for them if we haven’t taken the time to nurture a respect and care based relationship with them?  How can children feel affirmed as human beings and participants in their world if they view their relationships with others as hostile or fragmented?




Social competence has a lot to do with how children see themselves and their ability to make their own choices, choose their own friends, and to explore those friendships without the prospect of being reprimanded or strict consequences bearing down on them.


How can children feel affirmed as human beings and participants in their world if they view their relationships with others as hostile or fragmented?”


So, before you consider strategies like re-direction, giving a stern talking to, making a child say sorry to someone else, or even using any form of time-out (even though I hope this isn’t used as an option), consider what kind of a relationship exists between the child and you, the child and whoever they might have taken exception to and how those relationships can be strengthened through partnership, participation, and protection…


Partnership through collaboration…

Participation through turn-taking and idea sharing…

And Protection of their rights to have and express their feelings in their own time and in their own way.



Posted by Garrett Kett

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