How to develop social skills in children

Developing social skills in children prepares them for a lifetime of healthier interactions in all aspects of life. Social skills are an integral part of functioning in society. Displaying good manners, communicating effectively with others, being considerate of the feelings of others and expressing personal needs are all important components of solid social skills. Helping children to develop these important skills requires a different set of strategies in each stage of development.

It seems like some children, like many adults, are more naturally socially adept than others. These are the kind of people others gravitate to and for whom making friends comes easily. Like any other skill, social skills can be learned. What is important, however, is that children are able to form meaningful bonds with others, can empathize and interact with others appropriately, and have the skills to adapt in uncomfortable situations

One can start by instilling social skills in their infants when they are very young. Babies are unable to tell you what they want directly. This means you will need to pay attention to the actions and non-verbal cues that your baby gives. When you know what your baby needs, give it to them. If that doesn’t work then you may have misinterpreted their needs, and you should try something else.

Adults sometimes make the mistake of assuming children play just to pass the time. This is not true. In fact, children gain most of their skills through playing. This is how they explore the world around them, and it should be encouraged for them to learn new skills while playing. While your baby is exploring their world through play, they will learn new skills. It is up to you as a parent to reinforce those skills by giving your baby positive feedback. This makes your baby feel confident and secure in their development.

As they grow older, it is important to discuss feelings with your toddler, so they are able to understand and interpret feelings, of others and their own. Through your discussion of how they feel, they begin to learn words associated with those feelings and can later use those words to talk out their feelings. This will help them transition to talking about feelings instead of acting out their frustrations.

In general, children will have developed certain social skills and social cues by these ages:

2- to 3-year-olds: able to seek attention from others, initiate social contact with others both verbally (saying “Hi” and “Bye”) and physically, look at a person who’s talking, have the ability to take turns talking, and laugh at silly objects and events.

3- to 4-year-olds: are able to take turns when playing games, play with a doll or stuffed animal, and initiate verbal communication with actual words.

4- to 5-year-olds: are able to show more cooperation with children, use direct requests (like “Stop”), are more prone to chatting, and pretend play.

5- to 6-year-olds: are able to please their friends, say “I’m sorry,” “Please,” and “Thank you,” are more strategic in bargaining, play competitive games, and understand fair play and good sportsmanship.

Playdates are a crucial part of growing up. Having a playdate is a great way to introduce your child to the concept of using rules when a friend comes over and to teach him how to be polite to guests. You can go over all the different things the children can do together, and then have your child offer his guest three activities to pick from. You can have them take turns picking activities. This will help avoid disagreements and teach them about compromising.

The following strategies can help enhance your child’s social development further:

Teach empathy: Run through different scenarios by asking your child how other people might feel when certain things happen, and substitute different situations each time.

Explain personal space: Tell your child that it is important for everyone to have some personal space to feel comfortable, and practice acceptable ways to interact with someone during playtime.

Practice social overtures: Teach kids the proper way to start a conversation, get someone’s attention, or join a group of children who are already playing together. These are all situations that can be discussed and brainstormed at the dinner table, or in the car on the way to school or activities.

Go over taking turns: Sit with your child for at least an hour a day and play with him to explain what it means to wait, take turns, and share.

In order to build gratifying human relationships, it is vital that children learn and have the opportunity to practice the social skills considered appropriate by society. It is important to teach children to conduct themselves in ways that allow them to develop relationships with other people.

As most children grow older, they interact more and more with people in situations where direct supervision by parents is not possible. Drawing from what they have learned at home and school about socializing, children make friends within their peer group and soon learn more about socializing, hopefully refining their social skills as they grow and mature. These friendships are important for all children to develop. Friends serve central functions for children that parents do not, and they play a crucial role in shaping children’s social skills and their sense of identity.

Some children may find socialising more difficult than others. If your child struggles or seems reluctant to be with others, they may need some support to learn social skills. There are some things you can do to help.

How to develop social skills in children

Practise talking

Practise talking through role play, puppets and storytelling. Talk to your child through the day. You can also narrate what you’re doing, to help develop their language .

Let your child see you using good manners, like please and thank you. This will encourage them to act this way with their peers.

Listen and take turns

Children learn both verbal and non-verbal skills from the people around them. To help your child to listen well, you can:

  • Try showing them what good listening looks like through your own behaviour.
  • Use games like ‘Simon Says’.
  • Read some ideas for listening games for toddlers.

Find ways to make taking turns fun. Choose an object and tell your family they have to be holding it when they talk. Pass it between you. If your child is a little older, take it in turns to make made up sounds as if you are having an alien conversation.

Show the importance body language

Practise making eye contact and smiling with your child. If they are old enough to understand, ask them to talk about something while you use poor body language. This could be crossed arms, looking away, or fidgeting.

Ask them how your actions made them feel. Then show them attentive body language. Take it in turns.

Teach them about personal space

Consider teaching your child about personal space. Try:

  • Asking them to put their hands on their hips and stick their elbows out – this is their personal space.
  • Getting everyone in the room to walk around with their elbows out, to see how to give others space.

Introduce the idea of boundaries by asking if you can come into their space. You could say things like, “Can I give you a hug?” or ‘I know you don’t like hugs so shall we high five?”

Develop their emotional skills

Help your child understand, express and cope with emotions. This develops their empathy for others and helps them sense how to react to the emotions of others.

Teach them to problem-solve. If they’re old enough, ask them how they think they could tackle any issues they have. Guide them with questions like “What could you do?” or “What could you say?” Try to avoid fixing it for them.

You can also talk to them about friendships and what it is to be a good friend. If you can, arrange and support opportunities for socialising.

Find moments for learning in play

Children use lots of social skills when playing. It can be helpful to spot opportunities in play for learning. You can:

  • Ask your child to help with tasks, and see if they’ll try activities with others, to build teamwork skills.
  • Teach your child positive ways of responding to winning, losing or not getting their way.
  • Show them you understand when they’re upset, but help them see what the positives could be (might the outcome have made their friend happy?).
  • Show them what sharing looks like when playing at home.

If your child hits or bites, help them recognise how others feel when they’re hurt. Praise your child when you see them playing well. You can also gently encourage your child to apologise if they do hurt someone during play. Or if they don’t feel comfortable doing this, model apologising for them until they feel more confident. You could say something like, “Freddie feels sad that he’s hurt you and he wants to say he’s very sorry.”

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How to develop social skills in children

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How to develop social skills in children

We are not born with social skills. We begin to learn them as babies, as soon as we become aware of other people. As children and adults, we continue to learn and use these skills throughout our lives.

At first these social skills are very simple. A baby learns to return his mother’s smile or a child learns to take turns while playing a game. But as a child grows older, he needs more developed social skills to get along with other people.

How to develop social skills in children

How to develop social skills in children

The ‘right’ behavior for your child depends on his age. If you expect more than your child can do, you and he will both be unhappy. But if you expect too little from your child, he will not learn new skills. See more information on when children learn new social skills.

In this article we look at the importance of developing a range of social skills from a young age, to equip children with the skills they’ll need later in life.

  • 03 March 2021
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One of the most important skills for young children to learn is how to socialise and get along with other people. While the focus is often on more academic skills, like language and maths, or even physical growth and motor skills, social skills help set children up for life.

The way we socialise and interact with others, be it with family, friends, colleagues, peers and others, will impact on almost every aspect of our lives. Social skills help children to form positive relationships, have conversations, develop body language, cooperate, share and even play together.

Having well developed social skills also leads to improved mental capacity and cognitive abilities, as well as good overall mental health. In this article we look at the importance of developing a range of social skills from a young age, to equip children with the skills they’ll need later in life.

Learning through playing together

Children learn by observing others, listening, exploring and of course, by asking lots of questions. In childcare and kindergarten settings, children have a wide range of opportunities to develop valuable social skills through spontaneous experiences and structured learning. For many children, attending a long day care or kindergarten will be their first ongoing experience interacting with children outside of their own family.

Being able to interact and play with both children their own age and those older and younger is important for children’s social development. Through play with children their own age and older, children develop important skills in problem solving, resolving conflict, sharing, kindness and empathy. With younger children, they have the opportunity to develop leadership and responsibility skills, and adopt a mentoring role.

It is wonderful to see children develop and form new friendships, especially as the older children show newcomers around and introduce them to other children.

Preparing for the transition to school

The transition to school is a big moment for children and well-developed social skills help make the transition smooth. Social skills developed during their time in long day care and kindergarten help children build confidence, become more self-reliant and independent, and boost their overall self-esteem.

To support this transition, the educators at Catholic Early EdCare facilitate mixing with children at nearby schools. This can include joining them for outdoor games, visiting the library together or being partnered with senior students as buddies. There are also opportunities to meet the teachers and hear about school so when the time comes, children will feel well prepared with the social skills they need to make the move to prep.

How to develop social skills in children

Being an active community member

Understanding how they fit into their wider community is an important part of children’s social development. Being active in the community, mixing with older people and understanding what’s happening in the local area all contribute to building social skills.

At some services the educators at Catholic Early EdCare facilitate relationships with nearby aged care services. The children visit the elderly residents and talk to them about their lives and experiences. When visiting in person is not possible, the children are engaging through letter writing, drawing pictures and sending photos and cards.

How children develop socially and learn to develop relationships with others will impact on many aspects of their lives. It’s important children develop a range of social skills that set them up for life, from making friends and forming positive relationships, to building confidence, learning empathy and conflict resolution, social skills are one of the most important skills for young children to develop.

“Being active in the community, mixing with older people and understanding what’s happening in the local area all contribute to building social skills.”

At Catholic Early EdCare, we help your child to grow socially every day. The early years of education and care are the foundation for every child’s future. To find out more about how your child will grow socially in our care, visit our website.