We have all had those moments where we think our kids know how to act in a situation, but then embarrass us. It is awkward for sure, but gives us parents an indication of where or what we can help our children navigate as far as learning social manners and etiquette.
When it comes to teaching social skills, parents have a significant role to play in the lives of their young kids. Social skills are not just some kind of conformity thing; they are necessary for your child’s academic and social life, and for his or her career after graduation. Parents play an important role in helping young kids learn social skills.
Why It’s Important
Young kids need to learn how to be socially adept for their immediate as well as long-term future. Social skills involve the whole person – emotions, body posture, morals, intelligence, etc. – and how to manage them. Young kids who learn social skills tend to be more emotionally resilient, have better self-esteem, and even refrain from using drugs or alcohol when they get older. It matters.
Tips for Parents – How to Teach Social Skills
As parents, you can start early in teaching your child social skills. Here are some tips and suggestions.
Respect your child’s temperament
Not every child has high needs socially, and not every child has a high need for alone time. Don’t try to force your introverted child to participate in more extroverted activities than they are comfortable with. As an introvert myself, when I push myself in more situations that are requiring more and more from me, I am exhausted. This does nothing positive for anyone.
Forcing your child to socialize more than he or she is comfortable with could have the opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve, so respecting your child’s individual temperament is important. That said, all children can learn the skills of social competence regardless of temperament. It just might take a different approach with different temperaments.
Arrange play dates
This one can be difficult, especially if you the parent are not particularly social yourself. But try to make it a point to schedule some play time with other kids, even if your child is not in preschool or day care yet, or even if he or she is not going to daycare or preschool. This time is not only good fr your child, but good for moms!
In fact, if preschool or daycare is around the corner, spending time with other kids before enrolling can help make the experience much more positive. And if your child is not going to be enrolled in school until kindergarten, socializing beforehand will help him or her be more socially adept when they do get there.
Play with your kids
Very young kids can only do so much with each other – sometimes it seems like they just play by themselves, just in the same room! To help offset this and train your kids for the social skills they’ll need in group settings with peers, make sure you play with your child frequently.
Your children learn about play through your interactions with them, too. This is because parents who play with their kids have kids who are better able to adjust socially and are more socially competent. It’s a healthy springboard from which your kids can go forward and make friends. Just make sure you play like a child would (to an extent), interacting and getting into the play rather than just directing it. Play with your kids as equals, experts say.
Helping Children Understand What Is Socially Acceptable (And What Isn’t)
When it comes to teaching children what is socially acceptable, you may find that you have to state the obvious. As adults, it’s easy for us to assume that our kids will “just know” what is and isn’t socially acceptable. But you can’t count on kids observing the world around them and applying it to themselves. Kids are keen observers, but generally speaking, they don’t apply what they learn visually to their own behavior. That’s something they need to be taught.
An idea to help children navigate between what is socially acceptable and what isn’t.
If your child has a tendency to engage in a socially unacceptable behavior like nose-picking, see if you can practice before going out. It might help to develop a saying, like “Where should your hands be?” or “Where are your hands?” that will trigger your child to remember to put her hands somewhere below her chin. Practice this in a fun but educational way so your child is prepared, and is less likely to be embarrassed by your correction in public.
It’s a good idea to review the rules before heading out – make sure your child knows what’s expected. Giving clear expectations is the best way to share with your child how they should behave when you are out. Have your child repeat back to you what the expectation is, or before you even give the expectation have your child try to tell you what the expected behavior is. This way, you know they are actually absorbing what you are saying, rather than just having it go in their ear and out the other side.
How did you prepare your small child for preschool or kindergarten?