Social Skills
Not Ready for School?

It’s time for school, but not every child is ready. Experts weigh in on how to handle the hitters, huggers, grabbers, and the rest.

The Wanderer
It’s circle time, but Shawn has other ideas. He’s doing jumping jacks, dumping food in the fish tank, and running wild in the block area.

DO determine why Shawn’s always on the move, says Mary Munson, an early childhood specialist from Bloomfield, Connecticut. Does he have a short attention span? Or does he just want to play? Either way, explain that it’s time to sit now but tell him when he can play next. You might want to get him involved by assigning him a special role, such as “book holder.

DON’T discipline him in front of the whole class or draw attention away from your own instruction, says Kristin Neall, a school psychologist from Woodbridge, Virginia. Munson agrees: “It’s disruptive and gives Shawn too much attention for leaving the group.”

The Hitter
Julie doesn’t like it when she doesn’t get her way. And she lets others know by pinching, hitting, and scratching them.

DO manage your group sizes and materials to create a more supportive environment, says Naomi Kohrman, a pre-first teacher from Reading, Pennsylania. Kohrman also role-plays and models appropriate behavior during morning meeting and throughout the day. “Children need to be encouraged to express their feelings in words,” she adds. Invite children to state their feelings to help ease frustration.

DON’T ignore nonverbal cues that tell you aggressive behavior is imminent, says Kohrman. And don’t allow behavior that will injure or hurt feelings. But Kohrman adds a word of caution: Try not to label your hitter. She may just play into your low expectations.

The Shy One
Emily spends most of her time by your side. She is certain you are her best friend. When you’re busy with another child, she hides in a corner of the room.

DO focus on building self-esteem. “Give Emily activities she can successfully accomplish on her own, like watering plants or passing out cups,” Kohrman says. Neall advises pairing Emily with a friend when your hands are tied. “Encourage ‘school play’ in centers and at home to help her make the adjustment,” Kohrman adds. “Allow her to develop her comfort zone on the edge of other groups if necessary.”

DON’T be too concerned. Some kids are slower to warm up to social situations. “Every child is different. Don’t expect Emily to engage like a more outgoing kid,” Neall says.

The Grabber
Austin doesn’t like to share with his classmates. He has no problem grabbing what he wants, regardless of who has it first.

DO teach Austin how to use words to express what he wants and how to cope when he can’t get it, recommends Neall. Kohrman suggests modeling appropriate sharing, waiting, and trading, making sure to verbalize what you are doing.

DON’T allow Austin to keep what he grabs. And don’t punish him for his stinginess, suggests Kohrman. He may not understand why you’re upset.

The Hugger
Carrie is really excited about her new friends at school. She expresses her enthusiasm with hugs—lots of hugs.

DO praise Carrie for being excited and affectionate, Munson advises. But encourage her to ask her classmates if she can hug them before she does. Emphasize the idea of respecting each other’s bodies, and encourage other children to say, “no thank you,” if they aren’t interested in a squeeze. “If she continues to excessively request hugs, help her to find other ways to express herself, perhaps through drawing or dancing,” suggests Munson.

DON’T embarrass Carrie or discourage her excitement. “Chances are the hugging frequency will slow down if she has to stop and think of alternatives,” Munson says.