Developing social skills is an important part of raising a child. Better social skills means more comfort and less stress in social situations. With verbal and non-verbal communication, active listening, and teamwork, a child can build stronger relationships, perform better at school, and expect greater career outcomes.
But social skills don’t just develop naturally; they need to be taught and, more importantly, they need to be shown. Children’s first exposure to social interaction is with the adults in their life. So, if you want your child to learn acceptable behaviors, it’s important that you act as a good role model.
Social Skills for Preschool Children: Is There a Need for Social Skills in Early Childhood?
The short answer is yes. Now let’s explore why these ‘soft skills’, as they are sometimes known, are just as important as learning ‘hard skills’ such as the alphabet. Children experience reduced stress in social situations when their social skills are more developed. But why does that matter? Well, children who are anxious or experiencing stress have a harder time concentrating, whether it be in class or on the playground, making them less able to successfully participate.
However, children who have been taught to healthily express their emotions, to communicate, and to empathize – all skills that fall under the social skill umbrella – are able to go into new social situations confidently. Other benefits of good social skills are higher graduation rates, better preparedness for college and work, and stronger relationships.
What Are the Most Important Social Skills for Kids in Terms of Preschool Readiness?
There are many social skills that a child will have to develop, but here are five that will prepare them for success in preschool.
Greetings Walking into a room full of strangers and introducing yourself is difficult enough as an adult, imagine how difficult it is for a child who’s still learning all the words! Practice first with family and friends and preschool groups won’t be so scary.
When grandma comes to visit, prepare your child, say, “Grandma will be here soon. When she gets here, we’ll say, ‘Hello, Grandma!’” This tells your child what they can say in this situation. It might take a few times to get a result, but don’t force it, it will happen over time. The same goes for when your guest leaves. Let your child know that Granddad will be leaving and soon it’ll be time to say goodbye.
As a kid gets older, they’ll have to start answering the big questions like, “How are you?” This is a great one to teach children about expressing their emotions. Show them picture flashcards for simple emotions like “happy,” “sad,” “tired,” and “excited.” Try making an emotion dice showing a different emotion on each side. Then get the kids to act out the emotion it lands on and say the word.
Using polite words and manners. Eliciting the magic words “please” and “thank you” from toddlers, getting them to make eye contact, and having them sit at the table while eating may seem impossible, but it can be done! The three main keys to this puzzle are good role modeling, consistency, and patience. Good role modeling: kids are observant. Demonstrate the behavior you expect of them. Take your eyes off your phone when you’re talking to them and others, ask nicely, and cover your mouth when you cough.
Good role modeling: kids are observant. Demonstrate the behavior you expect of them. Take your eyes off your phone when you’re talking to them and others, ask nicely, and cover your mouth when you cough. Consistency: being fine with a behavior one day but getting angry about it the next can be confusing. Be consistent to reduce confusion as it can lead to anxiety and an inability to focus. Patience: a parenting essential, particularly here. It takes practice for manners to become automatic, so give the kid time. Positive reinforcement also helps.
Following directions. Getting your child to follow directions isn’t just to make your life easier. It is greatly beneficial for them too. In the classroom, following directions is an efficient way to learn, giving your child the ability to excel at school. Games are a fun way to teach children to heed instructions. Try these ones out:
Simon Says. A classic, one person gives instructions, such as “touch your nose,” “hop on one foot,” and the group does it, but only if the speaker says “Simon says” first. If the speaker doesn’t say “Simon says” and someone follows the instructions anyway, that person is out.
Red Light, Green Light. Get everyone to line up on the start line. On the words “green light,” everyone runs towards the finish line, on “red light”, everyone stops. If you don’t stop, you go back to the start.
First to the finish wins! Make it harder by adding in another color and giving it a new instruction. E.g. Blue light means skip. DIY Board Game. Great for directions and creativity, fill in the blank squares of a board game template with instructions such as “Move ahead two spaces” or “Count to ten”. Then get out the dice and play!
Working with others. Being independent is great; being able to work well in a team is just as important. Working with others means effective communication, dealing with conflict, and having a sense of belonging. Team sports are one way to learn teamwork, but there are other ways to teach it in the home as well. For example, empty a large number of colored pom poms into a tub and get your kids to sort them into colors. Adding a timer can make the kids devise strategies to speed up the sorting process.
Get kids to use various materials to work together and build the tallest tower they can, have them create a piece of art together, or roleplay in real-life situations like in a supermarket taking turns in customer and clerk roles. These games prompt kids to discuss, strategize, or divvy up their roles. While they’re playing, watch out for moments of conflict and guide them towards a calm resolution.
Listening. Teaching kids to listen also teaches them to pay attention. It’s a critical skill when wanting to build relationships with others. If you feel like your child doesn’t listen to you, try the following:
- Call them by their name to get their attention – this lets them know you want them to listen.
- Talk to them on their level – your child will be able to see you better and feel less like you’re just barking orders at them.
- Make eye contact – this focuses their attention on you.
- Shorten your instructions – information overload can cause a lot of confusion.
- Use praise – when they’ve done a good job, let them know!
- Ensure comprehension – If they can repeat back what you’ve said, they listened to you.
What Role Do Social Skills Play in Peer Relationships in Helping Them Make and Keep Friends?
In the skills listed above, you’ll find some overlap. The games that teach kids to follow directions also teach them working with others by having to take turns, and they teach them to listen to the rules. Making them give eye contact teaches them how they can show that they’re paying attention and respecting the person they’re talking to.
In the beginning, children generally only interact with family and close friends, but as they grow older, their social circles expand. They have to deal with more people without their parents around to help them. Having developed social skills early on equips them to more easily make new friends as well as keep them, giving them stronger relationships and making them happier people.