Preschool Podcast

Developing Social Competency In Young Children

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Episode 158 – Socioemotional skills are developed when children are young. Positive relationships have a big impact on how children grow into productive adults. In this episode, Christine Schmidt shares the 7 Cs of social competency which are curiousity, control, conflict resolution, coping, confidence, communication and community building. She also offers some practical tips on how to create an environment that encourages children to build their skills. 


Episode Transcript

Christine SCHMIDT:

The educator needs to – and the adult needs to – realize that all this stuff is interwoven in helping to create this environment, both physical, interpersonal and temporal. That helps that child develop these social skills.


Christine, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!


Thanks, Ron, I’m glad you invited me to join you!


We are very glad to have Christine on the show today. She is a teacher; she’s also the author of several books about early-childhood education. And hopefully we have a chance to talk about some of those. Christine, let’s start off learning a little bit about you. Tell us about yourself.


Well, I’ve taught in elementary [education]. I also am the director in early care and education in an after-school program. I was the accreditation manager of the National AfterSchool Association. I’ve been out-of-school-time specialist for the state of Ohio. I’ve had a contract with the United States Army to provide professional development. I’m a contract retainer for numerous PBS stations within the state of Ohio. And I own and manage my own consulting company that provides training and technical assistance to early care and education programs in local schools.


And tell us a little bit about some of the books that you’ve authored. Maybe just a summary of each of them and then we want to dive a little deeper into social competency.


The first book I wrote was on after-school programs and creating learning environments, and it’s called Great Afterschool Programs and Spaces That Wow! And so it delves into different areas within the after-school classroom and what you can do to encourage children to engage and to teach them specific skills.

The second book that I did was for directors it’s [The Child Care Director’s Complete Guide: What You Need to Manage and Lead]. And it talks about everything from how to make a budget [to] how to hire your replacement; what questions you can ask, what you can’t; what you need to do if you are involved in the food program, etc. How to hire somebody to develop [an] application process; what’s the hiring process look like; and how can you be proactive about the hiring process.

And this last book that I’ve done here is Developing Social Competency in Young Children. We really talk about the “Seven C’s” in social competency and how do we as adults teach that intentionally and provide environments that support, nurture and allow kids to test their skills and hone them.


So let’s focus on this latest book. What inspired you to write about social competency?


Well, I believe – and research sort of bears me out here – that social competence plays a large role in how well children do in school and how well they do and develop and lasting relationships and become productive adults. And I think that that is where our children are struggling here a little.

In my technical assistance role in observations and trainings for people the ongoing question for me was how I get them to be better. They don’t know how to communicate; they don’t know how to make friends; they don’t know how to compromise. And so once I kept getting this constant, “[Christine], what do we do about this? What do we do best?” I realized that really the frustration of the adults was in the fact that children didn’t have any social skills that they assumed at a specific age they were going to get in.

And that’s just not the case. Children learn social skills from those around them. And because they go through so many environments throughout the day, if you think about [how] a child’s at home and then the child may go to daycare and then the child may go to school and then they may come home from daycare and then to sporting events or church events.

So there’s all of these adults in their life that teach them these social skills. And unfortunately not everyone teaches children the skills we would like them to have. So it’s really important for people – adults in their life, parents and teachers and care providers – to intentionally teach these skills, determine what skill a child has, what skill a child does not have, and how do we get the child to move closer to a positive social skill?


One question I always have for skills like this, for example, is: When to start?


I will tell you that we start our children when they are infants and toddlers just about what is telling them the words to say. We assume the children have words, they have the appropriate words like, “May I please have the crayons? May I [tell you] what you just did may [have] hurt my feelings?” So you’re trying to get the children to understand that other people have feelings like they do, even when they’re infants and toddlers.

When they start to become a toddler and they’re starting to toddle around and take toys from another child or those kinds of things we really have to stop that action and get them to a place where they can understand. “Do you see Sally is crying because you took that toy away?”

So, are they going to get it right away? Absolutely not. There’s no magic pill here. It’s a long process because social skills, really… they’re rooted in our pre-frontal cortex and this is something people do not understand. So our skills are based in our pre-frontal cortex. It takes until the age of 25 for your pre-frontal cortex to completely develop. So that’s the reason social skills take time to develop.

So when you look at an eight-year-old and you think an eight-year-old should know something, chances are they don’t. And chances are they might have been exposed to it but they haven’t mastered it yet because social skills are like tools and everybody’s got a toolbox. But everybody – child or adult – doesn’t have all of the tools for all those situations that they’re going to come in contact with.

And remember earlier I said that they are… they learn from adults. So you’re the mirror. And so when they see another child throw a block [and] get what they want, they store that and they say, “Oh, the next time I want something I’m going to try that skill because it really worked for him. He didn’t get in trouble; he got what he wanted.” So those are just things that we have to stop and help the children understand that there’s a different way to do that and give them other tools, provide opportunities for them to practice that.


And you mentioned earlier about the “Seven C’s”.  Can you tell us a little bit more about that?


The Seven C’s really are: Curiosity, which is the desire to learn. We want to encourage them to learn. So we want to have fun activities that engage them or something that maybe they want to learn about. We want to ask them, we want to say, “What do you want to learn about? What you want to do?” And create spaces within your early care and education program that allows them to explore that.

We want to have Confidence, to have a positive, realistic opinion of their own abilities. Oftentimes kids… how many times have you heard a child say, “Oh, I can’t do that”?  And I always say, “’Can’t’ doesn’t live here; only ‘Try’ lives here.” So we talk about, “Well, let’s try it and we’ll see where we can go with it.”

Coping, to intentionally be able to implement strategies that reduce their stress. Kids are bombarded all day long with images they don’t understand, that are confusing to them. And we really have to give them opportunities to create hobbies, to learn to listen to music, to relax, to do exercises, to do all of these things so that they can learn to calm themselves down and get themselves under control and to cope with stress. Because things happen all the time. “We can’t go outside today because it’s raining.” “Well, we planned to go outside. I don’t understand why we can’t go outside.” So helping them understand [that] those things happen in life and we have to learn how to roll with it.

And Conflict Resolution, which is, how do we effectively work – two people or more people – to solve a problem that is facing them at that particular time? Whether that is there are three people allowed in a particular center and four children want to play, how do we do that? Somebody takes away a block, or, “I need that yellow box to fix mine.” So how do we get them to solve this problem, rather than come to an inappropriate outcome of that particular thin?

To control their emotions, to stop the anger – Control is the next one – and to stop that anger and figure out a different way. “So, I can’t punch you, so now I’m going to use my words. I can’t pull your hair or I can’t take your block. So what else can I do? How can I control? Because I’m really upset here. So of course the first thing I’m going to do is reach out.” So how do we use that, teaching them to use their words to get what they need and how they’re going to do that?

Communication is key. Kids need to be listeners as well as talkers, so they have to learn to listen to somebody else’s opinion and use those in the Conflict Resolution to understand their role in that. So they have an opinion, and that’s okay, to have that opinion, even if that opinion is different than your opinion

And the last one is to build a community. Community Building is huge. Kids have different communities – those environments, they go in each one. And community is just basically defined as a group of people that have similar interests or needs. And so those are the Seven C’s.


And so I listed them down here as you were talking, and I’m just going to list them back to our audience in case they want to document them: Curiosity, Control, Conflict Resolution, Confidence, Coping, Community Building and Communication. And [Christine] if we want to take this to a practical level, what can I do as an educator to help create environments or spaces to apply learnings related to social competency and these Seven C’s?


Well, really and truly educators and adults need to think about environments in a three-prong approach because the environments really fall into three separate categories. They really fall into the Physical: so what are we putting out there for the children? Are there soft spaces? Are there places for them to rest? Are there places for them to talk to a friend? Are there places where they can really get engaged? Are there places where they can become creative and they can go their own way? Can they create their own space? And those kinds of things.

The Temporal environment addresses schedules and learning opportunities that support a child’s needs. So when we look at that, there’s a big difference between a lesson plan and a schedule. A “schedule” is blocks of time in which we are going to do things; and a “lesson plan” is the plan or the activities that we have determined [what we] are going to do within those blocks of time.

And so we have to think about the blocks of time. Are they big enough? Are they long enough? Are they too long? Are kids getting bored and we need to shorten that up and maybe go outside for a little bit and then come back in? What is it we need to do that meets the needs of the group of children that you have?

And then we look at the Interpersonal environment, which addresses positive relationships [and] friendship building. People think that friendship building is an easy thing; it just comes naturally. For a lot of kids, it doesn’t. But in addition to those kinds of things we have to look at, where are children when things occur? Do they always occur in one area? Is there always conflict in one area? Are two children just [unable to] play in the same space together without there being some kind of altercation or crying or something?

So we’re going to look at those interpersonal relationships, and how do we teach children to be friends? How do we get them to build relationships, even with people who maybe don’t like the same things as we do? But how do we get them to do that? So when we’re looking at that that the adult needs to look at all three of those as woven together to create a place where children can be safe, can try new things and not be judged for them, can fail and retry and [be] encouraged to retry, and test how things work.

The other thing that is really important for adults to understand is that temperament plays a huge role because kids are born with a specific temperament. And that temperament can help or hinder a certain skill development. So we have to know that so that when we are planning our environments that we take into consideration that a child can be born feisty and go headlong into anything knowing full well they’re going to be successful; we’ve got the child who is fearful and would not go to a new person that they don’t know, wouldn’t try a new game that they’ve never played before because they’re sure they’re going to fail – they don’t want to fail, so they’re not going to do that.

And then we have a flexible child – who seems like the dream child out there – who always goes with the flow, [who] gives whatever the child who needs something or will give up what they want. But the downside of that is that they feel like they never get what they want. They’re always giving it away to somebody else just to make somebody else happy. So the educator needs to – or the adult needs to – realize that all this stuff is interwoven in helping to create this environment, both physical, interpersonal and temporal that helps that child develop these social skills.


Very helpful, thank you. And if I want to get access to more information about social competency – in particular your book, Developing Social Competency in Young Children, as well as your other books – where can I access that information? Any tips there?


They can access the books from Redleaf Press. I also do several webinars and those kinds of things that are based on the book, as well. But the book itself offers strategies for designing all of the environments, plus the provider’s role and in doing that because a lot of times we want the children to come up with solutions on their own, and how the provider can do that.

And there is also a way to utilize children’s books to talk about these skills and get kids to think on the other side. It’s easier when I’m reading a story about a child who loses their temper and then relating that to maybe something that had happened earlier in the day or yesterday so the child can relate in a non-stress environment about their own behavior and what they can do next.


And what about your webinars? How can you learn more about those?


The webinars are all listed on my website, which is


Awesome. [Christine], thank you so much for joining us on the show today. It’s been great to learn more about your history and social competency with such detail and rigour and providing us access to these great resources.


Well, thank you so much for having me on. Have a great day.

Carmen Choi

Carmen is the Marketing Coordinator and Preschool Podcast Manager on the HiMama team. She's been working with childcare business owners and consultants for 3 years. She is passionate making connections that empower the ECE Community through knowledge-sharing to support better outcomes for children, their families, and society!