Social skills are complex and not all children learn them naturally. Some children need extra help and support to make friends and, not to mention, to keep them.
Here are some ideas to help your child develop social skills:
Observe your child.
Take every opportunity you can to observe your child interacting with others. Invite other children
This will give you an idea of which areas your child needs to work on.
Is your child the type who hangs back with a tendency to be shy?
Does she like to be the ‘boss’ with everything on her terms?
Is your child able to share and take turns?
Does he listen to what his friends have to say?
Is she flexible? If a game she has suggested does not go down well, can she ‘go with the flow?’ or will this situation lead to upset.
Observe how other children play.
If you know children who seem to be popular with plenty of friends, think about what it is that helps them to be like this.
Chances are they will have well developed social skills. If you get the chance to help out at your child’s school you will have ample opportunity to observe children’s social behaviour, especially in the playground.
Alternatively, just watch other children when you are out with your own.
What is it these popular children actually do?
Teach social skills.
Teach your child the social skills they need in the same way you would teach anything else, here are some tips:
Explain what to do.
‘Remember to say Hello and smile when you meet someone new’
‘If you want a go with something someone else has got, ask them nicely if you can have a turn, what would you say?’
Show your child what to do.
Role model good social skills yourself, let your child see you interacting with as many people as possible and talk about how you feel in certain situations:
‘I was not sure if the lady in the shop was in a very friendly mood today, I smiled at her but she didn’t smile back.’
‘The receptionist at the doctors was so kind and helpful wasn’t she’
‘The people at my new work made me feel very welcome.’
Notice the positive.
Let your child know what you think they are good at when it comes to social skills. Maybe they are kind and think of others, or perhaps they have a positive attitude and always want to be friends with people.
Make sure you notice when they are using these skills and comment on what you see:
‘I saw you help that little girl that was kind’
‘I noticed how good you were at taking turns on the swing’
Use situations at home as well:
‘Thanks for asking so politely’
‘Well done for not interrupting me when I was talking to the other Mums.’
Identify areas to improve.
Have a chat with your child and say you want to help them with their friendships, ask your child:
What makes a good friend?
Brainstorm some ideas together, perhaps think of some characters from books TV or films. For example for younger children: Is Tigger in ‘Winne the Pooh’ a good friend?
He is an important friend to the others, but all that bouncing around must get a little annoying sometimes, does Tigger realize that?
Think of some characters to talk about to older children: in ‘Harry Potter’ for example, what is it that makes Hermione, Harry and Ron such good friends? Are they kind, do they listen to each others opinions? Do they share things? Do they consider each others feelings?
Set up opportunities to practice.
If you feel your child is not good at turn taking perhaps, or always wants to be the one in charge set up situations at home that will give them the opportunity to practice these skills. Use board games and team games that require co-operation.
Coach your child before and during play, use descriptive praise when they do well.
‘Remember it’s important to wait your turn so everyone can enjoy the game’
‘Good Archie, you are waiting your turn politely even though you are desperate to have a go.’
If your child is shy and too scared to ask to join in games in the playground teach them how to do this by giving them specific suggestions:
Watch a while
Say something eg. ‘That looks fun’
Say something nice eg. ‘You’re really good at that’
Ask to join in ‘Can I have a go please’
Pretend practice this at home, for young children use teddies or dolls, for older children act out these scenarios with them.
Encourage small steps.
The goal might be for your child to be able to join in with a game in the playground or the park but at first just watching and smiling might be all she can manage, praise every step along the way.
If your child seems to be struggling with social skills it’s worth taking the time to ‘go the extra mile’ and support them with this. It will take time and there will be set backs along the way, but remember you have a huge influence over your child and you are their first and potentially best teacher.