Summer learning loss doesn’t only apply to reading and math.
What is social intelligence, and why is it important? In a nutshell, it’s the ability to recognize our emotions, exert some control over them, show empathy for others, handle conflict well, and make good choices about personal and social behavior.
These skills are reinforced in school, but the foundations are learned at home, starting as early as infancy. In the summer months, when school is out and schedules are looser and more unstructured, kids can experience “the summer slide” – a loss of competence in these skills – just like they can with reading or math. Here are some ideas for reinforcing these skills over the summer months:
Toddlers: Sharing is Caring!
To get along well with others, children need to develop focus, attention skills, and the ability to restrain their impulses. The preschool years are an important time to learn such self-control, and parents can help. Traditional games like “Simon Says” and “Red light, Green light” give young children practice in following directions and regulating their own behavior.
Another game that helps toddlers practice social skills is called “Toy Please!” Collect four of your toddler’s favorite toys. Sit across the table from her with the four toys in front of you. To get each toy they have to use the word ‘please’. For example, “Car please mommy” or “Doll please daddy”. Then place all of the toys in front of them and ask for the toys back– using the same rules.
Elementary-Aged Kids: Good Sportsmanship.
For many parents (and kids), summer is time to take a break from organized activities. However, research suggests that team sports can be very helpful as a way to teach kids how to be good sports. In one study, elementary school-aged kids who receive explicit instruction in good sportsmanship showed greater leadership and conflict-resolution skills than kids who did not.
Before a game, remind kids on the goals of good sportsmanship.
- Being a good winner (not bragging; showing respect for the losing team)
- Being a good loser (congratulating the winner; not blaming others for a loss)
- Showing respect to other players, coaches, and the referee
- Showing encouragement and offering help to less skillful players
- Resolving conflicts without running to the coach
During a game, give kids the chance to put these principles into action before you intervene in conflicts. If they don’t sort things out themselves after two minutes, you can jump in. And when the game is over, give them feedback on their good sportsmanship.
At this age, kids can see right through our attempts at “teachable moments”. Life lessons that might sink in with young kids feel preachy to these worldly teens. Therefore, we need to take a more lighthearted, subtle approach.
Researcher Anna Flanagan has created two games that attempt to do just this. The first is a card game called Awkward Moment™, aimed at improving perspective. Tested on kids as young as 11 years old, Awkward Moment has been found to improve players’ perspective-taking skills and their ability to reject social biases.
The second game, called Buffalo: The Name Dropping Game™, is intended for ages 14 and up. Buffalo asks players to think of real or fictional examples of people who fit a random combination of descriptors (like tattooed grandparent, misunderstood vampire, or Asian descent comedian). After playing this game, high school students showed increased motivation to recognize and check their social biases, agreeing more strongly with statements like “I attempt to act in non-prejudiced ways toward people from other social groups because it is personally important to me” (Kaufman and Flanagan 2015).
Both Awkward Moment and Buffalo the Name Dropping Game are available from Amazon.
Older Teens: Stay True.
Social-emotional learning activities for older kids focus on deepening their understanding of their values, and prepare them to interact with others while staying true to themselves.
A great way to do this is through community service, which gives teens the chance to contribute positively to their community, while deepening their understanding about themselves. Kids who participate in community service broaden their perspective and develop empathy, teamwork and compassion. Check out some family-appropriate community service opportunities here.
Social –emotional skills can and should be practiced, like any other critical skill. And the isolation or lack of formal structure that some kids experience in the summer means it’s even more critical for parents to step in and keep these skills sharp. Don’t let the summer slump affect your child’s social skills!