Social skills play a significant role in a child’s life well before he or she enters elementary school. If these skills are not learned in the early years, our children’s successes in school and life may be negatively affected.
Many times we think in order to accomplish teaching social skills we must have elaborate play-dates, the perfect preschool and expensive toys and games. This is not the case. As a loving sensitive parent, you are the ideal social tutor. In fact, there is evidence that too much time with peers at this early age can contribute to negative social behaviors. (Taken from an article in www.ParentingScience.com)
The three essential areas of social skills for the preschooler are self-control, communication and empathy. Here are 7 recommendations on how to help your preschooler acquire these skills.
7 Parent-Focused Preschool Social Skill Building Recommendations
#1 – Making Contact
When your child is an infant you first need to connect by touching, eye contact and talking and cooing with your little bundle. Games like peek-a-boo, reciting nursery rhymes and laughing are not just silly play; they are essential to the bonding process. You are your child’s first human contact.
I keep mentioning eye contact because it is the first avenue for an infant to connect to another. If your special-needs child has difficulty with eye contact, you may need to focus on this skill. Positive verbal reinforcement may be necessary to establish good eye contact. (e.g.. “ I love it Timmy when you look at mama, thank you!” or, “You have such beautiful brown eyes, Sarah. Oh, what pretty eyes Sarah!”) As you are modeling good social skills to your child, remember total acceptance of this child is vital.
#2 – Realizing Emotions
As your preschooler gets older, teach him or her about emotions. Allow your child to express his feelings even if they are strong. When the child is calm, use that time to talk about his feelings and how they could have been better handled. Let your child know that you have a variety of emotions too. Talk about your own disappointment and sadness, (e.g., “When you don’t listen to me while I am talking to you, it makes me feel sad”).
By doing this, it helps the child realize all of us experience emotions. Draw simple faces exhibiting various emotions and remember together when he felt that emotion. With the use of a hand mirror, have him show you what happiness, sadness, surprise, etc. looks like. This is a fun game and it teaches him to be able to read social cues later on.
#3 – Discussing Social Experiences
Make it a habit of talking over your child’s social experiences. It keeps you informed and is an opportunity to go over any social rough spots that may occur and use them to explain a better way. Always show your child you are interested in their social world. Teach them the social basics such as please and thank you. As parents we are not perfect, so when you mess up use it as a teaching example, (“Oh no, I forgot to tell Daddy thank you for washing the car!”).
#4 – Limiting Bad Influences
Make sure you avoid bad influences in your child’s social circles and watch for bullying and peer rejection. The preschool years are the easiest to control these bad situations. Choose TV programs and movies carefully. Be careful about entertainment aimed for older kids too!
#5 – Practicing by Pretending
Encourage pretend play with older children and adults. Not only is this fun; so much can be learned while playing as they act out various social situations. You can teach social graces like how to put your napkin on your lap, how to pass the potatoes, and other practices that have fallen on hard times. Be inventive and this can be a great teaching tool!
#6 – Explaining Expectations
Always explain the reasons for the rules and your expectations for an event or behavior. Let your child know the consequences of bad behavior ahead of time. Making a child aware of what is expected and what will happen when these expectations are not met is key in helping better self-control and cooperation in your child. Remember to always follow through with the consequences.
#7 – Showing Love
Maintain an intimate loving relationship and display positive, warm, and loving emotions at home. You may have setbacks and have to apologize, but the key is to demonstrate a “can- do” attitude!. My favorite saying when I mess up is, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!”
Having children is joyful, full of learning and mistakes for both of you., None of us would want to miss out on this experience! This gift from God is what makes life worth living! I wish you many wonderful times with your little ones!