Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness

Jones, D.E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015), American Journal of Public Health, 105 (11), 2283-2290

Lately, we have begun to see more and more research which shows that personal characteristics outside of general intelligence can have a lasting influence on the level of success of an individual from childhood through to adulthood. This paper examined the social competence of young children upon entry to kindergarten on a range of wellness related outcomes in late adolescence and early adulthood.

The researchers used data from a longitudinal study which began data collection in 1991 and collected information on the social competence of 753 students entering kindergarten in the United States. Nearly two decades later, a large percentage of those students (aged 25 at follow up) were assessed on a range of outcomes concerning education, employment, public assistance, crime, mental health and substance use. The education outcomes results showed that children who related well to their peers in kindergarten went on to experience greater success in terms of high school graduation on time, college graduation, full time employment and stability of employment. These children were also found to repeat fewer grades and spend less time in special education services.

Researchers found a similar pattern of findings in justice system involvement whereby kindergarten children who were more proficient with pro-social skills were significantly less likely to become involved with the police by the time they had reached adulthood.

Researchers found these types of results to be supportive of previous findings on the long term predictive nature of non-cognitive skills in children for outcomes in adulthood. These findings also support the assertion that success at school and beyond is not wholly dependent on cognitive ability simply because factors such as peer interactions, self-control, concentration, and help seeking behaviours all contribute towards readiness for learning and general wellbeing.

These findings hold implications for policy makers and educators, indicating the value of developing social and emotional skills in children from an early age. The Aristotle Foundations Development Program addresses this need, introducing Year 1 students (Australian standard) to Emotional Intelligence skills which will help them to identify emotions in themselves and others, manage overwhelming emotions and effectively communicate their needs to peers and significant others.