By LaToya C. Dawkins Head English Teacher at Le Petit Paradis Preschool
The development of pro-social behavior is not a nature versus nurture issue. Pro-social behavior develops by using social interactions to guide them through behaviors that benefit another person or animal. Some actions that directly help to assist others are sharing, helping, and cooperating.
As an educator, most social behaviors that I have seen in children are learned behaviors. I have heard several colleagues mention that they can judge a child’s family situation by the behaviors that they display in preschool. It makes me smile to see a child share or say “please” or “thank you.” But as an early childhood teacher I wondered how a young child could display behaviors that go deeper than the general manners but aim to develop true altruism, pro-social behaviors that are unselfish and uncollateralized.
The phrase, “Do what I say and not as I do,” is irrelevant when it comes to pro-social behavior. The primary way a child learns pro-social behavior is through interactions with family members and caregivers. For example, a child may learn how to share by watching her brother and sister share household responsibilities. Sharing can be taught by encouraging a child to do so but the intrinsic benefits of sharing can only be fully understood by example. When sharing is a part of a child’s lifestyle, they will less likely have to be reminded to share with others but it will be a natural social behavior. It will go deeper than sharing a toy but also ideas and information.
The best helpers are those who are asked for help. At home a child who is encouraged to help their baby sister pick up a toy or asked to help make dinner will most likely come to preschool and be the best helpers towards their friends and teachers. Like sharing, helping can be taught in two ways. First by the exchange approach, “You do this for me and then I will do this for you” or secondly by the humanity approach, “We should try our best to help those in need.” When helping is displayed through the humanity approach it becomes more contagious and less toxic to daily social interactions. This is true even for us as adults. We would rather be helped out of the goodness of someone’s heart than to have to owe that person in exchange for their help. Pure help will be offered because one can recall how good it felt to be defended or rescued.
Dramatic play is one of the areas I see children cooperating with each other the most. Cooperative play can be so beneficial because it allows children the opportunity to learn healthy interactions and healthy conflicts. Cooperation becomes pro-social behavior when its goal is for the benefit of someone or for the group. Children are often encouraged to cooperate for the benefit of themselves, “If you clean up your room nicely, I will buy you ice cream.” However, cooperating becomes unselfish and less as a form of black mail when presented as a way to benefit others emotionally or physically. “Let’s turn over the soil so it will be ready for us to plant in the spring.”
The benefits of pro-social behavior will be beneficial to your preschooler and to you. It will create a less stressful atmosphere at home, your preschooler will naturally become more compassionate, and they will develop healthy social, cognitive and emotional skills.
Marion, Marian 2007 "Guiding the Development of Prosocial Behavior." Guidance of Young Children 7th Ed. pp. 250-70