HomeHealth & BehaviorSocial Skills

Is your child's behavior on track?

A quick guide to social yardsticks in the classroom, preschool through middle school.

By GreatSchools Staff

How does your child’s classroom behavior measure up? Every kid progresses at his or her own pace, yet certain patterns of behavior and, let’s face it, misbehavior are common at different stages of development. It’s worth knowing what is typical for your child’s age in case a behavioral problem should arise or just to set your mind at ease. After all, what you find charmingly endearing about his or her personality — whether it’s an uncanny ability to pepper others with questions nonstop or a sweet-natured shyness — may not translate. Keep tabs on your kid’s development with this guide to social skills in the classroom, adapted from Chip Wood’s Yardsticks.


Often chatty, gregarious, and bubbly, preschoolers have short attention spans and move quickly from one task to the next.

  • Kids at this age learn from example and need opportunities to practice new types of behavior.
  • When they do become rowdy or upset, preschoolers can easily be redirected. To improve communication skills, the teacher helps students with their verbal expression and may coach them with such phrases as “Use words,” “Tell him what you want,” or “Ask if she is done.” Role-playing scenarios help reinforce social skills.
  • Preschoolers love learning to work with other children but may have issues with knowing who’s in charge. Simple phrases like “It’s the rule” can work wonders for resolving disputes.
  • Nip roughhousing in the bud by showing out-of-control kids more appropriate playtime behavior.


Kindergartners appreciate rules and routines and are generally helpful and cooperative.

  • Kids at this age should be able to focus on quiet sitting activities for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Rules, jobs, and a sense of responsibility are very important to developing a kindergartner’s sense of justice.
  • Kindergartners often think out loud and announce their actions (“I am going to move my chair!”) before doing anything.
  • Dramatic play (for example, playing at housekeeping, shopping, or going to a restaurant) allows children to express their thoughts through action and is essential to language development.

First and second grade

While first-graders tend to be enthusiastic, competitive, and bossy, second-graders may show signs of being withdrawn, moody, or shy. This roller coaster of emotions is simply the natural reflection of children becoming more conscious of themselves in relation to the world.

  • Because first-graders can be fixated on winning, it’s useful to downplay competition in classroom games.
  • First-graders often use teasing, bossing, and tattling to figure out their relationships with authority. They can be extremely sensitive and respond strongly to both encouragement and criticism.
  • With their growing awareness of social norms, many second-graders become anxious about tests, schoolwork, and even recess.
  • Since many second-graders need structure, they may not respond well to sudden changes in schedules or plans.

Comments from readers

"I find the info for 9 -12 and 13-16 the same. I'd really like to read the article for 9-12 if I could find it. Where is it? "