School is a social experience. Besides needing to communicate and behave appropriately during classroom activities, children interact with one another constantly. Developing social abilities is an often overlooked yet important contributor to a child's well being. Children's success with others is influenced by their social cognition – their ability to communicate and act in socially acceptable ways.
Social cognition enables children to interpret others' feelings so they can respond appropriately, present themselves in ways that others find appealing, and engage in positive relationships with people who are important in their lives. Weaknesses in verbal pragmatics (communication skills) and social behaviors may make it difficult for some children to build and maintain positive relationships. They may do and say things that lead others to tease, shun, or bully them. These children may then expend a lot of energy avoiding humiliation and finding ways to save face. Sometimes, too, they initiate inappropriate teaching, avoidance of others, or bullying. As social problems escalate, children may resist attending school.
To better understand social cognition and its impact on a child's schooling and well being, Dr. Levine has defined two important areas for focus – verbal pragmatics and social behaviors.
Jason wakes up and hops out of bed, hoping that his mother has washed the torn jeans and silk-screened graffiti shirt that announce his individuality to the world. Well, he thinks, he can do without the jeans, but he must wear the shirt and the new "in" shoes that he got last week (with the right look and logo, of course).
Jason walks to the bus stop, wearing his clothing like armor, knowing it gives him a certain degree of protection, because at least he looks like he belongs on this social playing field. He scopes out a small group of his peers, decides on his strategy, then makes his entrance – pushing the nearest student while chatting about last night's episode of the newest "in" TV show. Jason is in with no cuts, not even a nick.
Jason and his friends will use their ability to relate to each other, their peers, and their teachers throughout the school day. Regardless of how successful they are in academic subjects, all have friends who will help and even protect them from humiliation in the most public arena, school.
Learning to relate to others, or developing social cognition, has become one of the more important goals for our school children. Relating to others and making and keeping friends can be as difficult to master, and as important, as any subject area in school. In fact, students who have difficulty with social cognitive skills may require the greatest amount of nurturing and protection from humiliation.
For more information about the dimensions of social cognition, click on one of the following topics: