Written by: Joshua Blazen
When you enrolled your child in preschool or kindergarten, you may have wondered, “Will my child learn reading, writing and math at their new school?” But did you wonder how your child would learn social skills at school? In recent years, teaching social skills has become more of a focus for schools. To guide schools in supporting social skills for children from birth through 3rd grade, Washington State developed Early Learning and Development Guidelines. According to this resource, key social skills milestones include:
• Young infants (birth – 11 months): smiling at others, noticing and copying others’ facial expressions, using noises and facial expressions to interact with others
• Older infants (9 months – 18 months): following others’ gazes or pointing, laughing when others laugh, recognizing others and remembering their names
• Toddlers (16 months- 3 years): playing turn-taking games, observing and imitating other children’s play, playing side-by-side with others
• Early preschool (3-4 years): sharing and taking turns, playing pretend, reacting to others’ feelings, playing in groups with other children
• Late preschool (4-5 years): connecting emotions to facial expressions, inviting other children to join activities, switching between an “indoor and outdoor voice”
• Kindergarten: accepting new trusted adults (bus driver, teacher, etc.), respecting others’ personal space, resolving some conflicts without adult help
• 1st grade: thinking about how their actions impact others, brainstorming and problem solving with others
• 2nd grade: noticing unfair situations, showing compassion and respect to others
• 3rd grade: noticing others’ differences in skills and abilities, resolving conflicts without adult help, recognizing that others have different opinions
Why are social skills important
• Research has shown that helping young children build their social skills can lead to a decrease in behavior problems such as bullying, hitting and defiance.
• Children are more likely to succeed in school when they can form friendships, get along with others and communicate their wants and feelings.
How can I support my child’s social skills at home
• Have conversations
The best way to help your child to build social skills is talking to them! When you talk to your child, they learn the skills they need to have a back-and-forth conversation, such as listening, asking questions and waiting for a response. When your child is talking, give them eye contact and acknowledge what they say with a smile or a nod. Children learn how nonverbal communication contributes to conversation by watching us!
• Let your child take the lead
When setting up playdates or planning activities for your child, leave some time for unstructured play when your child can take the lead. When children have the opportunity to explore their environment on their own terms, and set rules and expectations, they build confidence to brave new social situations.
• Coach your child through social interactions
As adults, we often find ourselves speaking for our children by answering questions for them or solving conflicts between them and other children. Instead, we can help children find their voice by coaching them through these situations. When your child has a conflict with another child, encourage them to speak directly to the other child rather than to you. When your child asks you a question about another child, encourage them to ask that child directly instead of you. Some children will need more support than others before they start using these skills on their own, but practice makes perfect!
• Talk about feelings
It’s important to teach and encourage your child to talk about their own feelings, and also to think about the feelings of others. When you see other children on TV, in books and in the community, you can teach your child to think about others’ feelings by making observations such as, “That child dropped their candy, and now they look sad” or asking questions such as, “How do you think that child feels right now?” Children who have better awareness of others’ feelings tend to have an easier time navigating social situations!
Social skills resources for parents of children birth to age 3:
Social-Emotional Health and School Readiness: A Guide for Parents with Children Birth to Age 5 https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/social_emotional_282200_7.pdf
Do you have concerns about your child’s social skills? We have local social skills groups and resources: https://www.wallysplaygroups.com/LINKSOTHERRESOURCES.en.html