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How to build social skills in preschoolers

It may be hard to imagine that it is already time to talk about developing social skills in your little one! The fact, however, is that by the time children are approaching 3 years they benefit from social contact to develop their social, emotional as well as language skills.


Going to a playgroup can be an easy initiation to practice these skills as the child interacts with peers and learns to communicate, share and generally find his way around. While sending your child to a play school however, remember, to take care of the child’s separation anxiety. Assure the child that you will be back soon. If need be stay with the child for some time so that he adjusts well to the new surroundings.

Scheduling play dates or simply taking the child to the park to play with other children is also a great way to getting them to practice their social skills. You could talk to the child in advance about the need to wait for his turn at the swing, for example so that he is suitably prepared. Once you have created the social setting, however, allow the child, to interact with other children, intervening only when it is necessary.

Overall great social skills are a result of emotional competence. To inculcate good social skills, it is imperative, therefore, that you help the child understand his emotions. It will help to speak to the child about his feelings and your own. Explaining emotions and helping the child give a name to them can be a great way for them to understand the feeling and manage it better.

Here are some handy tips to help build emotional competence in children that in turn help them develop great social skills:

Have a loving relationship with your child– There is enough and more research to say that a child’s social skills and in turn his many relationships build on his primary relationship, that with one’s parents. Children who feel emotionally secure, go on connect with people easily and adapt to situations. A loving, trusting relationship therefore is the best gift you can give the child.

Ensure that overall at home you display a “ can do” attitude. This in turn will help the child develop a positive mindset which will help him develop empathy with people as also help him deal with any setbacks.

Be calm and supportive – When the child is upset about something, it may be tempting to just somehow get the child to be quiet. However, that doesn’t help him learn how to handle the situation. Have him talk about his feelings instead. If the child is angry, for example, you could say something like “ I know you are angry about your favourite toy being broken. However you cannot bite other people because of this.  Let us try and put the toy together.”

By responding to the child’s emotions you are also giving the child a great lesson- that of responding to the emotional needs of others. This lesson, when learnt well, will go a long way in helping develop social skills that will create lasting relationships for the child.

In times when the child has a conflict with other children, help your child speak out how they feel without really attacking the other person. Encourage the child to tell the kid that it is his turn to sit on that swing instead of calling the other child mean if he does not vacate it. In situations where the child is upset about others not listening to his point of view equip the child with ways to negotiate with their friends. So the child could tell the friend that “while I really want to play, we have been playing ball all morning and could we now do something that both of us enjoy.” Much as you need to teach the child empathy, it is also extremely important to teach him to voice his own thoughts of course without being rude or inconsiderate. Simple things like raising their hand in class to go to the rest room or telling that playmate that he does not like to be pushed helps in raising an assertive child who can stand up for his rights without being needlessly aggressive or too passive.

It will help to introduce the concept of “we can find a solution that works for everyone” early. Consider this- if two children are pretend playing and they do not allow your child to play with them saying that their roles are already pre decided, the emotionally competent child who is exposed to the concept will suggest another pretend play scenario which all of them can enjoy.

Lead by example– Saying thank you to the vegetable vendor who comes to sell vegetables or apologizing to someone when you have made a mistake, are all great ways of building social skills that the child learns by observation.  In fact for the child to witness your apology may be a great lesson in conflict management. As long as you do not make a big deal out of apologizing to someone, it will come easily to the child. On the other hand if you never apologize, odds are that they wont ever do it or at least resist it.

You could also point out any impolite behavior as being socially wrong, should you see it in a TV show that the child may be watching. This is turn will help him spot any inconsistent behavior, much less replicate it.

Encourage sharing but know that it is difficult– As parents one of the benchmarks of the child’s social skill is his ability to share. While it is an important aspect, remember that sharing may not always be easy. Therefore it is important that you make the process comfortable. Do not start by expecting the child to share his most well loved toy. It may be like asking an adult to share his family heirloom piece, which wont happen easily.

When the child does share his things, ensure you make it a teachable moment by praising him. Also in cases where the child absolutely does not want to share and you think it calls for some action on your part, it is better that you send the particular toy that the child didn’t share, for a time out session, rather than awarding the child a time out.

Above everything, remember that each child is different and may take to social situations differently. In cases where the child takes time to open up, giving the impression that something may be wrong with him is akin to scarring him for life. Avoid labeling the kid as being “shy”. Instead acknowledge his worries and nurture him with effective ways to handle his social awkwardness. Modeling confident behavior and a relaxed attitude about social interactions may be a great way to help him or her open up. If children are socially anxious, they may often just need some downtime. Pushing them too much to perform will only aggravate their fears. Additionally, being sensitive to the fact that a child who we are labeling as being shy may just as well be an introvert who needs time away from people to rejuvenate himself can also help in supporting the child through his social interactions.

Post Author: Amita Bhardwaj

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