Teaching Social Skills to Young Children


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

Did you know that young children begin to learn social skills from their parents? Have you really thought about how your child treats his siblings, his friends, and his classmates will most likely be based on the way he is treated as a very young child by you? The behavior that is acceptable in the home between adults and between siblings is the behavior that your child will observe and emulate as he forms social relationships.

My eyes, ears, and heart just naturally perk up when I hear or see young children close by, and I routinely have to use great restraint when I am in stores where families shop. It angers me when an adult speaks disrespectfully to a child and then demands that she respond with respect. I want to explain that yelling at a child to stop yelling is simply illogical in much the same way that hitting a child to teach her that hitting is wrong.

We often drag innocent children to professionals and ask, “What is wrong with my child?” There are certainly situations where professional help is needed when children are unable to cope. However, I would challenge any adult who works with children, parents them, grand-parents them, or mentors them to take an inward look.

1.     Do I role-model the desired behavior? Am I doing everything that I ask my child to do? This means using gentle touches, kind words, and a respectful tone. It means saying, “I’m sorry,” when we make mistakes and treating everyone in our homes with respect.

2.     Are the rules that I have for my child necessary? Are they in her best interest or are they for my convenience only? For example, your child hates getting to school before her teacher arrives. She voices this, and you could easily adjust your schedule. Ask yourself, “Do I make the adjustment that shows her I really do listen and care or do I just barrel on with what makes my life easiest?” Trust me, children pick up very quickly when parents take the easy way out.

3.     Am I fully present each day with each child? Do I care enough to show him that he is valuable to me? Do I teach him by example how to be engaged and an attentive listener? Will he know how to make his friends feel valuable by giving them his full attention when they are together?

4.     Do I use words of affirmation appropriately and encourage my child to do the same with those in her world? Children can practice showing appreciation for those they care about at home. This teaches them how to pay compliments in the real world.

5.     Am I genuine and authentic? Do I keep it real? Children are honest, candid, and oh so genuine. They can spot a phony quicker than anyone. If we want them to have great social skills, we must model for them how to be comfortable in one’s own skin.

As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. Teach her by living your best life. The most valuable lessons in life are caught, not taught … and this includes teaching her great social skills early. Trust me, she will need a coach; but if you aren’t living it out in front of her, it will be difficult to coach her with any credibility.


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