Every parent wants their child to learn how to get on with others. It’s essential for their future happiness, for their future career, and, if the world turns into a post-apocalyptic zombie wilderness, it’ll be an essential life skill to be able to barter with the neighbouring warlord.
So what’s the best way of teaching our kids to cooperate and collaborate?
Like anything else, practice makes perfect. The more kids play with each other, the more they’ll learn. It might just look like a tussle over a scooter or splashing each other with mud, but they’re learning social skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives.
Recent neuroscience and child development research gives us a few tips about socialisation for toddlers and young children.
Older kids can teach younger kids: Learning to interact socially doesn’t have to be in pairs or groups of exactly the same age. In fact, different-age combinations can help both the younger and the older children. In one study, when children aged 18 months to two years were studied playing with their older pre-school siblings, the older kids taught the younger kids ‘giving’ behaviour, with the younger kids learning to play cooperatively. Meanwhile, the older kids get to be the leaders.
Nice kids make the best playmates: It’s probably not surprising, but it matters who the other kids are. Pre-school kids who mix with kids showing behaviours like sharing, empathy, and cooperation, show greater positive emotions. The positive effects last even after the kids have stopped hanging out together.
Kids open up more around other kids: When researchers observed children aged three to four in free play together (dressing up and using props), they noticed the kids were more willing to talk to one another about their ‘mental states’. Peers created an environment where kids were happy to have conversations about their thoughts, feelings and ideas. This shows the benefits of child-child interaction, as opposed to a pure parent-child or nanny-child interaction.
We’re massive fans of nanny share as it offers a chance for kids, with or without siblings, to develop their social skills together. By spending time with other children and developing sibling-like bonds, children can teach and learn positive social behaviour, reinforcing one another – a virtuous cycle that lays the groundwork for healthy relationships for the rest of their lives.