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Our 'Soft Skills' May Be Most Important Skills of All

Too Small to Fail
By Too Small to Fail

Learning how to take turns, control emotions, share with others and pay attention to instruction are important skills for all human beings, regardless of age. But recent research has found that these so-called “soft skills”—social and emotional development skills—are critical to success in school and life, and they actually begin forming earlier than previously believed. In fact, these skills may be the most important skills we learn as they open the path for all future learning.

Beginning from birth, babies interact with their parents and caregivers by crying, babbling, and gazing into their eyes. These first human-to-human interactions help children recognize and understand emotions, and teach them what to expect from future social experiences. Similarly, when very young children are allowed to explore their immediate environment—crawling in their living rooms or practicing self-feeding, for example—they learn self-confidence and how to manage emotions like frustration and fear.

Children who live in high-stress environments due to family instability or violence, or who do not experience nurturing and responsive relationships with parents and caregivers, do not develop the parts of their brains that govern social and emotional skills. As a result, they may exhibit behavior problems and have trouble focusing on important tasks later in life. According to the Urban Institute, kindergarten teachers estimate that 30 percent of low-income children lack the social and emotional skills they will need to participate effectively in school.

Parents and caregivers can help ensure their babies and young children develop important social and emotional skills by talking to their children, cuddling them, remaining calm when they express anger or frustration, and encouraging them to explore their environments safely. With proper support and encouragement, young children can develop healthy social and emotional skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.

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