Belonging, Andrew Fuller

A Blueprint for the Development of Social Competencies in Schools
Andrew Fuller

The development of resilience, emotional intelligence and social competencies in young
people is not only linked to long term occupational and life success but is also associated
with the prevention of substance abuse, violence and suicide. If social intelligence is the
ability to “read” the dynamics of a relationship or social setting, then social competence
is the ability to respond creatively to what one finds ( Egan, 1998)

One of the overwhelming findings of research on the well – being of children has been the
issue of co-morbidity or contagion. Both negative and positive experiences are
“contagious” in that they establish chains of sequences or experiences. Put bleakly,
children with one negative risk factor are more likely to have more risk factors.
Conversely, and much more positively, if we provide children and young people with
even one protective factor they are more likely to be able to accumulate more protective
factors.

An example of a negative or risk chain would be a child who grows up in violent
circumstances and learns to distrust others, enters school and interprets the intentions of
others as hostile. The child then acts warily or aggressively towards peers and develops
peer relationship problems resulting in the child feeling rejected by their peers and
reacting to this by bullying others.

An example of a positive or protective chain would be a child who grows up in violent
circumstances but learns, on entry to school, that there is a trustworthy adult who can be
relied on to assist in the resolution of peer relationship difficulties. The child’s positive
attempts to interact with others are acknowledged. The child begins to feel accepted,
mixes more appropriately with peers and develops a diversity of friendships.
While we may not be able to achieve this with every child, it is important that we
consider the establishment of social competency as important as academic competency in
our schools and communities.

We live in a country where: it is estimated that of the 5.6 million young Australians aged
25 years or younger (1996 Census), 1.4 million will experience mental health problems
(Zubrick, Silburn, Burton, & Blair, 2000), more than 26,000 children are abused or
neglected each year; where one in four of our young people experience depression before
their eighteenth birthday; and more people die from suicide than in motor vehicle
accidents.

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