These are the most important skills your child needs to succeed in primary school

It’s that time of the year when parents of children in Primary 1 start fretting over whether their six-year-olds will be able to keep up with their peers in mathematics and English.

Many, in a last-ditch effort, have resorted to enrolling their children in expensive Primary 1 preparatory classes or hiring private tutors.

This is a yearly ritual that plays out among parents around the world – from Singapore to New York, where early childhood development expert Ellen Galinsky is based.

She is most well known for the go-to book for parents she authored in 2010, Mind In The Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.

Currently, she serves as president of the Families and Work Institute and heads Mind in the Making at the Bezos Family Foundation, a project to share the science of children’s learning with the public, families and professionals who work with children.

Related: The complete guide to starting Primary 1 in 2017 

In an interview with The Straits Times, Dr Galinsky stresses that what parents should be concerned about is whether their children are up to the mark on the more intangible skills, such as the ability to pay attention and control their emotions.

While some educators refer loosely to these as “soft skills”, she prefers the term “life skills” or “executive function” skills.

“All of these life skills are based, in one way or another, in the prefrontal cortex of the brain and it is apt that they are called executive functions because children need to manage attention, thought, emotion and behaviour in order to pursue their goals,” she says, stressing that these skills are at the core of every child’s ability to do well in school, making it possible for a youngster to think flexibly and creatively, keep needed information in mind and resist distractions.

Related: 8 skills your child must have for her future job

Imagine, she said, two children in a maths class. One child, Annie, is focused on the activity set out by the teacher, working on it with her classmate. But another child, John, is easily distracted and keeps interrupting his classmates.

Annie, in all likelihood, will be more successful at learning than John, who has yet to develop important skills such as the…

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