Teaching Social Skills

I was watching the news last night, and once again the coverage was dominated by political topics dealing with any aspect you can imagine. One of the networks has worked hard to cover the very wealthy who are partying and celebrating at these conventions as a reward for supporting their candidates.

Cameras in hand, the news crews get behind-the-scenes footage of what the wealthy do at these conventions. As I watched, I smiled and felt pretty important. You see … No matter how rich or beautiful you are, you will use the social skills acquired in your preschool years for the rest of your life. Repeatedly I saw rich, beautiful, and important people lined up like preschool children waiting to go outside.

I thought about how essential the social skills and universally acceptable character traits that we focus on each day in our centers are to children and eventually to adults and thus to our society. Standing in a line to wait your turn doesn’t go away just because you are wealthy. Granted, it will get you around lines or to the front of many lines much quicker, but there are some things in life that will always require you to draw on the basic social skills that you learned very early in life.

Here are some simple tips for teaching social skills to young children:

1.  Seek knowledge. Know what your child can understand and practice. It is inappropriate to ask a toddler to wait for anything so find ways to distract her if she is going to wait. A preschool child can wait but should be engaged in abstract activities—playing games with his eyes like I Spy, challenging his mind by saying, “I’m thinking of an animal with a long tail,” and so on. Have realistic expectations and know what your child is capable of doing.

2.  Celebrate your child’s successes and reward what you want to see repeated. When he acts responsibly or plays fair, express your approval in simple age-appropriate words or actions. A long talk with a toddler about how proud you are that he was nice to his friend will be lost on him. Instead, clap loudly and smile when he gives a friend a hug. Praise him in simple words such as, “You gave your friend a hug. That made her happy and that makes mommy happy.”

3.  Model the desired behavior. Your children will catch your values and will imitate what they see in you. Also, use words to describe what you are doing and always keep in mind the age of your child.

4.  Encourage your child to talk about his feelings. He must be able to recognize and describe his own feelings if he is to become empathetic with others.

5.  Be purposeful. If you notice that your child is very rude, seize the teachable moments to help her understand the power of her words. If you notice that she is struggling with waiting, make sure she is not in a situation where she becomes too frustrated. Sometimes we teach our children by controlling their environment.

Teaching social skills is an around-the-clock investment. Keep in mind that our children will use the social skills they acquire during their early years for the rest of their lives. What we teach them the first five years really matters.

Written by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.


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