Teaching social skills to kids is one of the most complex, confusing, yet rewarding aspects of parenthood. It’s no secret that preschoolers and kindergarteners are naturally egocentric—even when playing or interacting with others, many children have difficulty sharing, empathizing, collaborating, and cooperating.
Begin is here to help you learn crucial social skills for kids, as well as how to incorporate them into your family life.
The Short Cut
- Learning to treat others with respect in social settings is an important aspect of building Character, one of the 5 C’s at the heart of the Begin Approach
- Key social skills build upon each other to create success in multiple situations: learning to listen leads to learning to follow directions, which helps your child thrive at home & at school
- You can’t force social skills—if your kid won’t share or listen, just meet them where they are and try to find common ground
8 Important Social Skills for Kids
Sharing is a necessary part of daily social interactions. That doesn’t mean it’s easy! Sharing is a difficult concept for young children to get behind. Toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners have a particularly difficult time, as they are more focused on their own needs and desires than those of others.
This is normal. The feeling that something “belongs” to them is typically much stronger than their desire to please others. Even though it’s hard to share, doing so is critical to a child’s social skill development, as it helps them keep and advance friendships. It’s also a great way to bond and show appreciation.
Active listening is an important skill that even some adults struggle with. Properly deciphering and absorbing information requires significant focus. We all know this can be challenging for young kids, but active listening can strengthen their receptive language skills (the ability to comprehend spoken language).
Receptive language skills help your child:
- Handle social interactions
- Answer questions
- Understand stories
- Comprehend what they’re reading
- Understand gestures
While developing their social skills, your child will come to see how important it is to actively listen when others are speaking. Paying attention to what someone is saying and responding directly to their statements or questions is a big part of healthy communication.
3. Following Directions
The cousin of good listening skills would be executing the instructions your child heard — a.k.a., following directions! Following directions becomes particularly important once your child enters into their school years. It’s one thing to follow directions at home with their parents where they’re innately comfortable; it’s another task entirely to follow directions from adult authority figures they may not know well. Your child will learn how listening and following directions overlap with one another. If they listen well, it becomes easier for them to follow directions accurately. And when they follow directions accurately, they’ll often be rewarded for their hard work! Keep in mind, however, that multi-step directions are challenging for young kids. To help them develop the ability to follow directions, give them one direction at a time.
4. Collaboration & Cooperation
Similar to sharing, your child will learn how to move beyond sharing objects to sharing ideas, stories, and work. With good collaboration and cooperation skills, kids will learn that working in a group gives them a chance to express their ideas and listen to the ideas of others. It allows them to see that it can be fun to work on a shared project!
This may sound simple, but for young children, cooperation can often require real effort. It will take time for them to learn to respect others’ opinions even when they’re different.
By working together toward a common goal, kids can advance their sharing skills to integrate intellectual and physical tasks—like clearing the dinner table with a sibling!
Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not an easy one to acquire! It’s normal for young children to be impatient. However, patience is an especially rewarding social skill for kids that will serve them well for the rest of their life.
Patience is critical for many things, including maintaining relationships and achieving big goals that can only be completed over an extended period of time. This is where the concept of delayed gratification comes into play. When you help your child understand that good things often take time (not everything in life is microwaveable!), you nurture them into a patient person. Learning patience can be challenging for enthusiastic, passionate kids who live in the moment and want things right away! Persevere in the practice of patience, and it will come with time.
Empathy means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Your child will learn how to appreciate the similarities and differences between their lives and those of people they meet. They will also learn how to empathize with these people, no matter how different they are.
For young children, this can mean small gestures. For example, if their friend or sibling cries because your child is playing with a specific toy, your child may pause and say, “I know you want to play, too. Don’t be sad. We can take turns!” But this sense of empathy will likely not appear overnight. Empathy develops over time and across a variety of scenarios. The easiest way to promote your child’s development of empathy is by showing it in action. When you extend grace to your child often, they will learn how to extend it back.
7. Respecting Boundaries
Some people require different emotional and physical boundaries than your child.
This can be a particularly difficult concept to learn, especially for very young children who receive most of their socialization from within the household. Likely, if your child is extroverted, they may assume everyone is OK with hugs, questions, or lots of chit-chat. In some cases, they may be right! In others, they may accidentally cross boundaries in their efforts to be friendly.
Teaching your child how to ask permission and identify boundaries helps them establish a sense of respect between themselves and others. The same goes for helping them establish boundaries for themselves. Let your child know that it’s OK to say no to hugs, kisses, or other displays of affection from someone — no matter who it may be — if they feel uncomfortable. Model this idea by asking questions yourself (“Would you like a hug?”). When they make their boundaries clear and ask for others to do the same, it will make both parties feel much more at home.
Working on positivity can make it exponentially easier for your child to tackle many of the other social skills for kids we’ve mentioned, especially patience, boundaries, listening, and sharing. With a positive attitude, your child will find it easier to make and keep friends, succeed in school, and achieve their goals. The more positive you are about your child’s social skill development (including their inevitable slip-ups), the more reassured and positive they will become themselves.
This doesn’t mean you have to be positive all the time. In fact, a healthy amount of honest criticism can be beneficial in helping your child learn to express their feelings.
To do this, start with your own emotions. Let them know how you’re feeling and how you’re managing it in real time if you can. Kids need to know it’s OK to be sad, angry, or mad sometimes and how to handle it. By acknowledging and processing difficult feelings together, it’s easier to turn them into a positive lesson for the future.
How to Teach Social Skills to Kids
Now that you know what social skills for kids to include, how do you go about teaching them at home? Let’s take a look!
Your child should know that you do not expect perfection. There is no way to execute all of these social skills every time, everywhere, without mistakes. That is OK! In fact, it’s encouraged. Mistakes are normal; they’re how we learn what went right or wrong.
Make sure you normalize this for your child. If they know all humans learn lessons this way, it’ll be easier for them to push through the sting of a mistake and try again.
Encourage Sharing (Without Violating Boundaries!)
Although sharing is great and should be encouraged, there may be some things that are special to your child that they don’t want to share. This can be especially true of stuffed animals, blankets, or special toys. This is OK, too! It’s great for your child to set boundaries that you and other kids respect.
To encourage sharing, try not to force it. Encouraging without forcing also demonstrates to kids how boundaries can be created, acknowledged, and respected between people. This will motivate them to share with those around them by taking comfort in the fact that what is special to them has been kept sacred and separate. It will also encourage them to be direct about their and others’ boundaries when it comes to play, school, or emotional issues.
Check Their Listening
During social interactions within your own family or outside of it, pay attention to your child’s listening skills. You can observe them to see if they are listening carefully.
Do they seem engaged? Are they asking questions? If they’re having trouble listening, try simplifying your speech and saying just one thing at a time. And remember it is just as important to listen to your child. This shows them that what they are saying is important and encourages them to listen to you in return.
Think About How You Give Directions
In teaching social skills for kids, the parent or authority figure is responsible for ensuring the directions they give are something a young child can execute successfully.
When giving instructions, be clear, firm, and gentle. As we mentioned earlier, young kids have a very difficult time executing tasks with many directions at once. Start with one direction at a time that your child can focus on. When giving instructions, have your child repeat what you want them to do. Only give an additional instruction when the first has been completed. Repeat until the task is complete.
Your child can give you directions, too! That way they have a sense of what it takes to delegate, manage, and execute a task from start to finish. Have fun with it! Popular games like Simon Says are a fun way for child and parent to play and practice the skill of following instructions together.
Give Empathy to Get Empathy
Show your child that you think about other people’s emotions, too! This is less of a teaching moment and more of an authentic display of empathy. If you see that your child is expressing an emotion, validate it for them. “Oh, I see that you’re excited. I love that you’re so eager and happy to do this!”
You can acknowledge negative emotions, too. For example, you might say, “I know that must make you angry. What can we do together to make you feel less unhappy?” This not only helps them feel seen and heard in the moment, but it also gives them a direct example of how to tackle empathy with others in similar situations.
Social Skills for Kids are Essential
The more your child experiences the benefits of social skills, the more intuitive these skills will become for them. With practice (and patience!), we know they’ll get there.
Character is a personal part of learning, with important universal skills like sharing, patience and cultivating healthy friendships. The social skills they learn now will help them throughout their life in school, in sports, and anywhere they grow.
At Begin, we know this, and we include Character building activities in almost all of our products—whether it’s stopping a donut thief in codeSpark, learning to take turns on the slide in HOMER, and expressing emotions with the help of their Sesame Street friends in Learn with Sesame Street.
Check out our Early Learner Bundle to see how some of our products come together to give your child their best start to achieving their fullest potential.