Raising a social child builds the foundation for them to grow into being a healthy, happy adult. Having good social skills is integral in relating to others. When we use the expression “social child”, in no way do we mean the “most popular” child. We mean raising a child that can successfully navigate social situations, integrate perspective taking and create lasting relationships. We hope that these tips will help your children develop the social skills they need on their journey through our social world.
We prefer to begin working on social skills when children are in preschool but any age is a good age to start. In fact, some skills need to wait until the child is mature enough to understand and follow through. We begin with:
WHOLE BODY LISTENING
Whole body listening refers to a whole set of things that need to happen in order to attend and process what other people are doing, feeling and saying. The body should be turned towards the person or people with whom we are interacting. Here is a great video on Whole Body Listening. Many of our social skills activities, like Stick Up For Your Feelings, foster whole body listening.
Much of our communication is non-verbal. In order, to correctly interpret this non-verbal communication one needs to reference others, particularly, one’s peers. To give a concrete example, how often have you been out with your best friend when something funny happens and without speaking you look at your friend to see if they are laughing, too? Have you ever been at a party with someone and you notice them across the room with a frown and their arms folded? You know that this is your clue that they would appreciate it if you came and saved them. When children are younger we can prompt them by saying, “Look at Jojo. What is he doing? How do you think he feels?” Past the age of first grade, this becomes embarrassing to the child and you need to find stealthier ways to encourage referencing. We have used many of the RDI activities to build non-verbal referencing. You can find the link to RDI on our Resource page and here is RDI in a nutshell from a parent blogger: Gooagoo. Many of our social-emotional activities such as How Am I feeling? are fun ways to encourage referencing skills.
FLEXIBILITY AND PERSPECTIVE TAKING
Flexibility and perspective taking are the hallmarks of maintaining positive relationships. Some children have a difficult time when they lose a game. Tantrums are sometimes involved. Being a good sport actually feels much better than absorbing and spewing out disappointment over a loss. First, be clear about what it means to be a good sport; provide the actions and language that could be expected. Now they know how to act but will they remember when they lose? The only effective way that I have found to help a child stop focusing on winning is to play games one on one with them and try to win. Once the child falls apart pay no attention to the tantrum. As soon as the tantrum subsides and calm returns emphasize how fun playing the game actually was for the two of you. Whenever a glimmer of being a good sportsman shines through we celebrate the achievement.
We also should encourage flexibility of ideas and games. Some children like to play the same game every time. We can start building true flexibility by planning it first. For children who are especially rigid about what they will play you can start by having them take turns choosing what game to play with a trusted adult. Initially, choose a game you know they like and add in novel games as they learn that “new” can equal fun. Put “Try a new activity” on their calendar.
This leads us to perspective taking. We like to take every opportunity to reinforce perspective taking. Gratitude is a fabulous way to reinforce thinking about others. When we are grateful we start to realize that we have gifts that other people may not enjoy. We have fun being grateful with our Gratitude Garlands. We also have fun people watching and building perspective taking while we watch. You can easily build this into your day. Make observations, encourage your child to observe. Discuss what you see. Why do people look angry, sad, excited? Would you feel the same way? Try our Be a Social Spy perspective taking activity.