Babies are born wired for social connection and from infancy they are ready to start building relationships with the people around them. The process of children learning to communicate and cooperate with others, share, take turns, resolve conflicts, and control their emotions and behavior is a long one. As parents, we are our children’s first teachers and children need loving, sensitive parents to start teaching them good social skills when they are young. We will need to continue teaching and providing social opportunities for them to keep practicing and developing these skills well into their teenage years.
As parents, there are several key social skills we need to be aware of. We need to help and support our children in learning and mastering these skills so they can be successful in their interactions with others.
- Conversation. Young children like to talk, but not always to each other. Toddlers and many preschoolers need help to become more comfortable talking to peers their own age. Help your children practice good conversation skills like talking in turn and talking on topic.
- Cooperation. Cooperation is the ability to get along with others. It requires skills like sharing, taking turns, and waiting patiently for a turn. Learning to cooperate with others can be difficult and takes time and practice. Children learn from intentional teaching of these skills as well as modeling. Take advantage of being a role model and let your child see you cooperating with others during every day social interactions.
- Empathy. Having empathy is key to strong social skills. The more children can understand and respond to the emotional needs of others, the more they are liked by their peers. To build emotional competence it is important to talk to children about feelings. Talk about your own feelings, encourage them to talk about their feelings, and have sensitive conversations with your child about how others might be feeling in different situations.
- Conflict Resolution. Young children are egocentric and not really great at solving problems. It is common for young children to resort to physical behaviors like hitting, grabbing and biting when they are frustrated. When your child has a problem with a peer it is important to encourage a positive and constructive attitude toward solving the problem. Teach them to come up with alternate behaviors or solutions to the problem. Intervene when necessary but let older preschoolers work out problems themselves when possible.
- Communication. Children need to learn to communicate their feelings, wants and needs clearly. As speech improves and vocabulary increases young children will be able to communicate better. Maintaining a warm and loving relationship with your child allows them to communicate openly with you. This in turn translates into better communication with others.
- Self-Control. Learning self-control begins at a young age and is an ongoing process. When we take the time to coach children through their emotions, and respond to strong emotions in soothing and supportive ways, children learn that their feelings are manageable and in their control.
- Personal Space. Young children are notorious for getting in other people’s space. Children need to know and understand that everyone needs personal space to feel comfortable. This is a skill you can actively teach and practice with your child.
Good social skills are essential to school and life success and happiness. As parents being aware of these elements of social competence helps us to encourage and nurture these skills in our children. When our children are excluded or rejected by peers (which is a fact of preschoolers’ lives) we need to reflect a positive attitude toward these setbacks and continue to provide our children positive ways to learn, practice, and interpret the social events that are a critical part of their daily lives.