Social skills provide the foundation for children to build relationships, cope with frustration, and interact appropriately with peers and adults. Social skills are an essential part of child development.
And yet, social skills are not always a priority when it comes to child rearing.
Sure, most parents focus on manners. Please and thank you, waiting a turn, and sharing are valued in most families.
While I agree that manners are very important, I also see the benefit of teaching social interaction skills from the beginning.
A child who has good listening skills, makes eye contact, and can read a social situation is a child who will struggle less when it comes to making and keeping friends.
While some of these skills can take a fair amount of time to master, the sooner you start, the sooner your children will master them.
Below are some fun games that help build basic social interaction skills:
1. The Gab Bag (video): Listening skills and conversation starters. Sometimes young children struggle to find a starting point for a conversation because they grow accustomed to having the conversations started for them. Have your kids decorate a small bag with their favorite stickers, drawings, etc. Place several conversation starter questions in the bag. During your next family meal, have one child pull out a question. Have him go around the table asking the question to engage other family members in conversation. Examples of questions include: What is your favorite holiday? What do you like best about butterflies? Pick topics that interest your kids and be specific with the questions. Model appropriate responses by elaborating on your answers. Over time, your kids will learn to lead with a question and listen for an answer before responding.
2. What’s New: Eye contact and reading social cues. As adults we know that lack of eye contact often signals boredom or not listening. Kids generally avoid contact due to nerves or distraction. It’s important to teach kids that making eye contact and observing the situation show other people that you are listening and that you are interested. Using dress up clothes or just regular clothes, start a conversation with your kids about a kid friendly topic. After a few minutes, have them clothes their eyes and remove one dress up item. When they open their eyes, ask them to identify the change(s). This teaches kids to focus on the other person when engaged in conversation instead of focusing on what they want to say next.
3. Tell Me How: Listening skills. It’s no big secret that kids are easily distracted and often get lost in their own imaginary worlds…even when engrossed in conversation. Make a simple drawing or project out of clay or blocks that can be broken down into three or four specific instructions. State the directions clearly and then give your child the necessary materials to recreate the project. When your child starts to work repeat the instructions again, this time slowly and one step at a time. This game teaches kids to slow down, listen, and ask for clarification. *Younger children will need cues to ask for clarification or to repeat the instructions.
4. Continuous Story: Listening skills and appropriate responses. As amusing as it is when kids start discussing completely different topics during a conversation, it is important to teach them how to listen to what a friend is saying and to stay on topic. This is another great game to try during a family meal. Explain that one person will start a story by saying the first line. Going around the table in a circle, each person adds to the story by picking up where the previous person left off. This one can take some practice with younger kids, and sometimes they get very excited and forget to wait a turn. Redirect the story back to the right place and keep going. This is a fun way to create a story together while practicing listening skills!
5. Surprise Compliments (video): Increasing positive feelings. Adults are well versed in the power of a simple compliment. Conversations often begin with, “I love that purse. Is it new?” Children are both impulsive and egocentric by nature, and don’t necessarily focus on the other person when they first enter a conversation. “Surprise compliments” is a great game for family play, play dates, or a classroom lesson on social skills. For younger children and children who startle easily or fear loud noises, blow up one balloon per child (a different color for each child) in advance. Before you begin, talk about what it means to give a compliment and how it feels to get a compliment. Ask each child to whisper a compliment that they think would make another person feel good. Write it on the balloon. For older kids write the compliment on a small piece of paper, fold it and place it in the balloon, and then blow up the balloon (compliment is inside). Turn on some music and make a game of it. See how long the balloons can stay in the air. After 5-10 minutes of play, have each child pick a balloon that is different from his/her original balloon. Help the children read their compliments aloud and share how it feels. For older kids, either let them pop or slowly deflate the balloons to find their compliments. This game teaches children that it feels good to give and get compliments, and that starting a conversation on a positive note often results in positive interactions.
What social skills game will you try?Pin It