I was browsing through a scrap book of a 6 year old and telling his mother that his imagination and visio-perceptual sense seem quite advanced as compared to his age. Even the tiny notes and poems scribbled in between indicated that this child had a good grasp of language, all indirectly pointing to higher intellectual abilities. I was in my clinic with this parent who was referred by the school to manage her "stubborn and shy" son.
"That's the thing Madam, he is quite smart that way. His memory is good, observation is keen, he also picks up things quickly, but still in some ways he is so immature. He does get along well with other children, he does not really have any friends, he is impatient, he does not think of consequences, he is extremely shy in front of strangers, and he is so stubborn that I lose my patience very often. Teachers don't have complaints about his academics, but at every PTI they tell me about his misbehaviors."
I was mentally drawing up differential diagnoses and what assessments will have to be done. But even without seeing the child and doing any tests it seemed that here was a child with above average intellectual abilities but with low social skills and emotional maturity.
We sometimes come across children who just seem to handle themselves effortlessly in social situations and we immediately start comparing them to our own children, wishing that they had that X factor. Let us call this X factor as COMPETENCE.
Being competent means having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully. The best time for enhancing a child's competence is from the age of 6 months to 2 years (Bradley et al 1989).
Competent children have social skills such as getting and holding adults attention in acceptable ways, using adults as resources, showing both affection and hostility at appropriate times, getting along well with other children, being proud of their accomplishments and trying to act grown-up. They also have a range of cognitive skills such as being able to use language well, plan and carry out complicated activities, and pay attention to a task while being aware of what else is going on.
As parents, we are quite focused on enhancing our child's intellectual competence. We ensure they have a healthy diet and give all sorts of food products to fortify their brain development. We consciously choose toys, books, and play activities that will stimulate their brain. We are ready to shell out money for the best schools and classes that claim to hone our child's intellect. But we often neglect the equally important area of socio-emotional competence; or assume that social and emotional skills will develop on their own. Unfortunately, that is not true. In fact, these areas require more inputs from parents and caregivers because there is no formula for handling emotions and social situations tactfully. It requires a lot of trial and error learning.
So is there a way of ensuring that my child is competent? I can say you can fairly succeed at this by your ability to-
- Design your child's environment
- Serve as a ‘consultant' for your child
- Provide a balance between freedom and restraint.
For specific pointers on how to enhance social and emotional competence, look out for my next blog in this space.