PhotoWho would have thought that Robert Fulghum’s philosophical book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten would actually be a theory that proved very true today? The book became a New York Times Best seller 25 years ago.

It seems that Fulghum was right on the money. A 20-year study that kept track of 800 children from kindergarten until their mid-20’s was recently published – and it shows that there is a correlation between a child’s social interactions in kindergarten and their level of success in early adulthood.

Social competency

Researchers from Penn State University and Duke University studied teacher evaluations that looked at social skills for kindergarten students in 1991. These evaluations were based on several factors, including listening skills, conflict resolution with peers, and the capacity to share belongings. Each child was given a score based on their positive and negative behaviors, with zero being the lowest score (poor social functioning) and four being the highest (good social functioning).

After scoring each child, the researchers tracked each participant all the way into young adulthood. They recorded varying milestone markers, such as if the child finished high school, went to college, and was able to find a job. Criminal records and substance abuse issues were also recorded.

The researchers found that children who had positive social interactions and were helpful in kindergarten were more likely to go onto college. After graduating, they were also more likely find a full-time job. On the flip side of the coin, children who had problems with social issues in kindergarten were less likely to finish high school or go to college. They were also more likely to get into trouble with the law when they were older and struggle with alcohol or drug addiction.

Results should be used as a tool

The scale that the researchers used when evaluating the children showed remarkable accuracy in predicting each participant’s future academic and social success. For every one-point increase in a child’s social competency score, they were twice as likely to graduate with a college degree and 46% more likely to have a full-time job by age 25.

For every one-point decrease in a child’s social competency score, they were 67% more likely to be arrested in early adulthood, 52% more likely binge drink, and 82% more likely to be on a waiting list for public housing.

Although the study has produced strong results, parents should not be dismayed if their children do not show an acuity for social skills early on in life. Damon Jones, lead researcher of the study, stresses that every child can be taught social skills through proper parenting techniques and school intervention. The researchers hope that their study can help provide parents and teachers with early indicators so that they can work on these skills if a child is shown to be lacking in this area of development. 

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