How To Improve Your Child’s Social Skills
If it was challenging for you to make friends as a kid, hold eye contact, or understand personal space, it's understandable that you worry about your child's social skills. And if your childhood was socially smooth sailing, you still probably wonder how you can help your child develop their communication capabilities.
After all, how you interact with others is an essential ingredient for a healthy, fully-lived life.
From reading and role-playing to teaching your child how to be audibly curious, you can boost your child’s social skills with these 7 simple strategies. Teachers can take note, too!
1. Pick up a picture book
Picture books are a fun way to help teach children social skills like listening, sharing, working together, and making friends. Kids read picture books and see them as an example of how to - or not to - behave.
Here are some picture books that teach good social skills.
Children’s picture books:
- They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel (about perspective)
- We Don’t Eat Out Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (about making friends)
- The Someone New by Jill Twiss (about including others)
Preteen/Teen chapter books:
- Can You See Me? by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott (about compassion and empathy)
- Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (about kindness)
- Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen (about not judging others)
2. Read up on child development
Furthermore, you can indirectly help teach your kids good social skills by learning about child development.
For example, it's helpful to know when children start to share and how their age dictates how they'll play with others (like cooperative play and parallel play).
Also, having a better understanding of your child's growing brain and body will help you adjust your standards, like, shouldn’t they be playing with other kids in school by now?
Read these books to understand more about social development:
- Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields (an insightful read perfect for highly-reactive parents)
- Emotional Agility by Susan David (learn to quit your emotional helicopter parent tendencies and regulate your emotions)
- Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids by Susan Cain (a must-read if you have an introvert in the house)
3. Just play
Children learn best by playing, so just play with them!
One fun way you can do this is by role-playing. For example, pretend to have a conversation with the supermarket clerk, role play asking for help, and practice conflict resolution strategies (like active listening and naming your emotion) when a problem arises.
Moreover, schedule play dates for your child. Don’t fret if the children your kid plays with are not the same age - children learn from others who are older and are role models to the younger ones.
So better break out the board games! They’re a fun way to encourage conversation, conflict resolution, and empathy.
4. Practice appropriate body language
Body language is another social skill, and sometimes kids struggle with picking up on their peer’s body language cues. Think crossing their arms to signal they don’t want to play or avoiding eye contact.
You can explain that body language is one way to communicate without words. Role play different social situations, like waiting impatiently in line with hands at the hips or picking at your hair and clothes during a conversation, which conveys nervousness.
Conversely, you’ll want to practice what your child should do too!
5. Encourage your child to ask questions
How do you get more information? You ask questions.
Encouraging your child to ask questions helps them learn more about the environment and people around them and allows others to learn too.
Like the other shy kid in the class who has a question but doesn’t want to raise their hand!
Teach them the power of an open-ended question and how to invite others into a conversation. Your child can practice asking questions with the local librarian, lawn care guy, neighbor, and new kid on the playground.
6. Teach them the power of compliments
Everybody likes to be complimented. Plus, giving and receiving compliments is a great conversation initiator and strengthens the connection between two people.
So, teach your child how to compliment somebody in an authentic, positive, and specific way.
For instance, your child can tell the crosswalk lady how much he loves her bright new red shoes or how their friend chose such beautiful colors for their butterfly painting.
And don't be shy to give compliments yourself. Your child will see this self-esteem-boosting behavior and follow suit.
7. Model good manners
Lastly, you can show your child what good social skills look like.
For starters, practice please and thank you, smiling and waving to strangers as you pass by, active listening, and maintaining eye contact and positive body language.
So check yourself for good manners:
- For example, do you often cross your arms when talking or keep them open and relaxed?
- Do you truly listen to others when they speak, or are you already thinking of your response?
- Do you have personal boundaries or lack them?
You probably have already seen your child pick up a few unfavorable habits of yours. They'll pick up good social habits all the same.
Don't think you're the only parent wondering what they can do to improve their child's social skills because you're not!
One of the first things you can do to help is read up on childhood development so you can adjust your expectations, though don't skip on reading kid's books with your child too. Children love to learn through play and role play, so use some opportunities to teach. Asking questions, complementing, and understanding body language can also help improve your child's social skills.
Kris McCormick is a boy mama, wife, and blogger. Since becoming a mom six years ago, she’s been researching the best advice, resources, and baby gear from small businesses to make pregnancy and child-raising easier for all parents.