We all want our kids to hone their social skills as they
grow, but do we all take the time to teach them how to get along with others?
I often joke that my children have no choice in the matter, because I'm a child psychotherapist. They've been able to identify feelings
since before they could talk, and we talk a lot about how to be helpful, how to
be kind, how to show empathy and what it really means to get along with others.
Like it or not, working on the social-emotional stuff is just part of the
landscape around here.
More often than not, when very young kids end up in my
office, it has something to do with social skills.
A new study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and
reported on in The
Washington Post shows that children who scored well on social
competence reports were more likely to have a college degree and a full-time
job by age 25 than those who did not. The study is based on data collection of
753 kindergarten students in four states beginning in 1991.
What does this mean for parents in the trenches right now?
Start working on social skills … yesterday.
While it would be great to leave this
task up to preschool and kindergarten teachers, kids need more practice in
various settings to learn how to get along with others. They also need specific
skills and feedback. While it's great to suggest sharing with another kid at the
park, sharing doesn't actually mean giving away your possessions without question
for the entire time you play at the park. That only builds resentment among
kids and adds to the confusion of sharing.
So what does it mean to play well with others? It might help to consider these do's and don'ts of basic
looking up and saying "hello" when someone greets him. This can actually be a
hard skill for kids to master. Meeting new people, especially new adults, can
feel intimidating. Pro tip: Host a
"fancy" dinner party at home and try on different roles to practice greeting
DON'T force a
quiet child to interact with new people immediately. Allow time for warming up
to the situation instead. Watch and wait, move close, then help your child by
getting low and modeling the greeting.
Sharing involves give and take, not just give or take.
DO teach your
child to offer a compliment, comment on a common interest or ask a question to
get a conversation going. Pro tip: Think
about possible topics of interest before you
arrive at the destination so kids don't freeze up.
DON'T force your
kids to play with kids who aren't a good match. Give your child time to explore
and find friends on his own terms.
DO talk about
what it means to share. Sharing involves give and take, not just give or take.
Practice this in the safety of your home before entering play with others. Ask
your child to talk about the good things that happen when kids share. Pro tip: Watch other kids at play and
point out instances of sharing to show your kids the fun of playing with
You know those days when your child wants to build a home for every worm trapped on the sidewalk? That's empathy talking, and that's a powerful tool.
DON'T force your
child to share a special or favorite toy with others. Do you share everything
you own? Sometimes kids need something just for them. That's not selfish;
that's just human.
DO nurture your
child's empathic tendencies. You know those days when your child wants to build
a home for every worm trapped on the sidewalk? That's empathy talking, and
that's a powerful tool. Talk about what it means to care about and for others.
When kids squabble, help them see the other person's perspective. Pro tip: Help your child plant some
flowers. Believe it or not, nurturing nature helps kids build empathy skills.
DON'T dismiss your
own child's feelings in an effort to protect the feelings of others. When
parents model empathy, kids learn how to empathize with others. Listen to your
children. Validate their feelings. Empathize with them often. This will help
them grow into kind, compassionate, happy and successful adults.