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Practicing Social Skills with Your Child

Many parents spend a lot of time with their child in the early development years teaching the basic foundations of everyday skills like ABCs, 123s, colors, and more. But what about social skills? Lots of people think these are skills that are learned once a child goes to school, and while school is a great place to practice social skills, these skills should be practiced whenever possible to improve social development.

Every child is different. Not only will their social skills differ with age but just overall with personality too. You may have a very shy child, or perhaps a bubbly one that will talk to anyone! It’s still a good idea to practice social skills, even if you think your child is already very sociable. Things like manners and rules come under “social skills,” and it never hurts to reinforce these whenever appropriate.

One great way to practice social skills with children is by arranging playdates. Before children arrive at your home, talk with your child about some activities he or she thinks they can do with the others. Keep the options limited, and make sure the things needed for those activities is out so the choices as to what can be done that day are clear, like a box of cars or arts and crafts. If you have a shy child, you can talk about what you both think will happen when the other children arrive. It is even a good idea to role-play and practice scenarios and good manners. This can help alleviate some stress and make your kid feel better about having company over to play. Your child can tell the others what has been picked out for that day. Try to encourage taking turns in picking which activity to do next. This teaches compromise. Playdates are also a great way to teach empathy. You can go over different scenarios of what might happen during the playdate and how that might make others feel. It is also good for explaining personal space, allowing each child to have their space to play, knowing you can play together still by allowing enough room. Finally, playdates are ideal for teaching kids how to start a conversation. Never underestimate the power of a playdate!

There are more fun and games to be had when practicing specific social skills. Here are a few activities:

Understanding Feelings

Because kids sometimes find it difficult to interpret feelings from others, you can do some games to help your child understand them a bit better.

A great way to start is by having a game of “mirroring faces.” Try to have your child copy the same expressions you do. This can start with something simple as sticking your tongue out or touching your nose, then move on to easy-to-imitate facial expressions like big smiles and frowns. This may not seem like much, but it is a good way to start teaching feelings with younger children and getting them comfortable with expression. It is also great for autistic children.

You can do a matching/memory/bingo game with printable emotions games to use as bingo boards or easily make your own. Your child will match the feeling (word) with the expression. For example, matching “sad” with a picture of someone crying. Of course, the words may be good for the slightly older child just learning how to read, but you can also use two different pictures for the same emotion, such as two different types of happy faces or two different types of sad faces. You can have a frowning face and one that is crying. This shows that there are different ways of showing the same emotion.

Keeping Eye Contact

You probably wouldn’t realize it, but games on the playground can be useful for social skills like keeping eye contact, like being on the swings! This activity is great for younger children but suitable for all. When your child is on the swings, stand in the front and make it into a game for the child to touch your hands with his or her feet and in the meantime, keep eye contact. The child will be watching you to see what you do, where your hands go, and if they succeeded. At the end, give lots of praise for watching you!

Put a sticker of some funny looking eyes on your forehead when you go to have a conversation with your child. This may seem silly and distracting, but really you’re teaching your child to look the right away when talking with someone!

Staying on Topic

A child’s mind may be going in several different directions at one time, making it difficult to keep the focused on a topic. One way to practice this with kids of any age is to do the ABC game! In this game, you pick a theme, like animals, and go through the alphabet naming something that begins with each letter (A – ant, B – bear, C, cat, etc.) For younger kids, ABC books with themes can help.

Another activity is a continuing story, where everyone takes turns giving a little bit of a story. If your child goes a bit off the plot of the story, you can always bring them back with your part of the story. Not only is this great for staying on topic, but it also teaches listening skills and taking turns!

 

Practicing social skills can be a lot of fun. Your child will be learning very important skills that they will carry with them through life without even knowing it!

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