We all expect our children to be super-achievers in academics. We make every effort to ensure that they improve their verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical and visual-spatial intelligence. But how many of us consider honing their social intelligence? And what exactly is social intelligence?
Understanding social intelligence
Way back in 1920, Edward Thorndike, an eminent American psychologist, described social intelligence as ‘the ability to understand and manage men and women and girls, to act wisely in human relations’. But life experiences show that this is not a capacity that comes easily. It is tough to act wisely when it comes to relationships.
Psychologists believe that social intelligence helps humans in effectively negotiating and navigating complex relationships and environments. It is regarded as an individual’s competence to understand his or her environment and react in a manner accepted as socially successful conduct.
Why children need social intelligence
Social intelligence is a vital tool that a child requires in order to grow up as a good human being within the family and in the society. Chennai-based family and school counsellor Arundhati Swamy says, “Social intelligence is essential for children to build harmonious relationships. It also creates contexts for practising emotional skills such as empathy and adapting to people and situations.”
As your child acquires social intelligence, she learns the fundamentals of handling human relationships and building social connections. She develops healthy relationships with family, friends and members of the society. Social intelligence also makes your child better at managing emotions, handling conflicts, being empathetic and improving values.
The school’s role in nurturing social intelligence
A child spends most of his time in school, and hence, there is no better place to develop social intelligence. “School is a macro-social environment that provides children with opportunities to learn to adapt, adjust, share, respect, understand behaviour, and distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour,” says Arundhati. “The school offers a dynamic environment for your child, with ample opportunities for interacting with peers and adults. It also allows the child to learn and understand more about himself – his thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and how that behaviour impacts people and situations,” she adds.
These opinions are echoed by Shoba Raveendran, principal of a school in Coimbatore, “A major portion of a child’s learning happens in the school, be it academics, soft skills, life skills or extra-curricular activities. So, it’s quite natural that learning social skills also happens here. With a peer group that comprises individuals from various cultural and social backgrounds, there can’t be a better platform for a child to acquire, practise and sharpen her social intelligence,” she feels.
Co-education and social intelligence
With schools playing a huge role in the development of a child’s social intelligence, some thought leaders feel that the co-education system is most beneficial in this regard. Talking of this, Arundhati says, “Co-education helps children become comfortable with the opposite gender. This is preparation for relationship choices in adulthood. Children learn about appropriate social behaviour and develop a healthy attitude towards each other.”
The co-education system is progressive, as it respects both genders and helps in laying the foundation for co-existing with respect and dignity. This helps in promoting a child’s social intelligence, naturally. Shoba Raveendran says, “As boys and girls help each other and share their thoughts on different topics, the co-education schooling system enables them to look past differences, understand each other, and be open and frank. This forms the foundation for strong social intelligence.”
According to a research done by the American Council for Co-Educational Schooling (ACCES), children who are able to play with both girls and boys tend to have good social skills. The institution, which is a part of the Arizona State University, categorically states that co-educational schooling offers children respectful and supportive friendships with peers of both genders, and makes them socially skilled in families and workplaces.
Fostering mutual respect and confidence
In a co-educational schooling set-up, students of opposite sexes interact with each other on a regular basis. The environment encourages and cultivates a relationship of respect among them and discourages discrimination on the basis of gender.
“Co-education gives opportunities for children to learn to accept the differences and appreciate the uniqueness of each gender. It also helps children learn appropriate social behaviour and develop a healthy attitude towards each other,” says Arundhati.
Shoba says, “I have seen drastic changes in students who join our school from single-sex schools, in the way they interact with the opposite gender. The usually shy or reserved ones gradually become more open and confident. This is a huge learning for them, as they acquire social skills much better and faster.”
Making the right decision
Experts and educationists are of the opinion that co-education plays an active role in promoting social skills in children. However, it should also be acknowledged that opting for a co-education system depends on the preferences of parents and children. If either the parents or the child is not comfortable with the system, there is no point in forcing acceptance of it.
“First of all, parents must be comfortable with the co-education system. Otherwise the child might get confused messages about boy-girl interactions. While co-education is an accepted system, one must also acknowledge the basic differences between boys and girls, in their development during the phases of growth,” emphasises Arundhati.
Summing up, what matters is holistic education that prepares a child to face the challenges and complications of today’s social world. Researchers have proved that the co-education system does the job better. This, however, doesn’t mean that single-sex schools are incapable of promoting social intelligence. As Arundhati puts it, “A positive school environment builds confidence, resilience and hope in its students, preparing them for success in the future. It promotes group interactions that help the child to discover her own strengths and limitations in following instructions, understanding ideas, generating new ideas, making joint decisions, listening to others’ ideas and learning to appreciate different points of view. It also helps the child to stand up for himself and to support other children. Any school that offers these learning experiences will foster socially intelligent children.”
Although schools facilitate children in acquiring social intelligence, as a parent you have an important role to play too. If you instil values such as discipline, respect, appreciation and empathy, your child will grow up into an individual with a high degree of social intelligence.