But when and how do we teach social understanding to our children? Is this another subject which must share time and space with important academics such as math, science, and reading? With standardized tests or summer vacation looming, is "social understanding" relegated to a quick discussion during the lunch hour or in a once-a-year assembly? Do the kids with "special needs" get pulled out of the classroom to attend a "social understanding group" with the resource room teacher or the school psychologist while their classmates go about their usual daily activities? Do parents conduct a "social understanding" discussion with their children in the same way that they might finally schedule an uncomfortable session on "the birds and the bees?"
Don't get me wrong--any time devoted to teaching social understanding is time well-spent. However, in my opinion, social understanding is not the icing on the cake; it should be the platter on which the cake and frosting are securely resting!
It takes only a few extra minutes to talk with children about why people do things, how others feel when we use certain words or act in a particular manner, why they or others struggle with some tasks or activities, how they can use their abilities to help others, what they can do differently in future situations, etc. When we do so consistently and constantly throughout our daily lives, we build a solid framework which children can refer to and learn from as they evaluate what they're seeing, hearing, saying, doing, and feeling.
I believe that if every parent, teacher, bus driver, administrator, counselor, psychologist, babysitter, grandparent--every individual--commits to modeling and teaching social understanding, that incidences of "anti-social understanding" (bullying, prejudice, intolerance, and more) will become significantly less. And opportunities for success will greatly increase for everyone!