Babies are social beings by nature. On the day babies are born, they are already studying mom and dad’s face, making eye contact, and beginning to communicate. Social development is just as important as physical or intellectual development. A strong foundation of social skills will help children be successful socially and emotionally. There are educational benefits to having strong social skills as well. Children will be more confident in school to answer questions, ask questions, self-advocate, and collaborate with others. Here are the essential social skills to teach your kids.
Social Skills Kids Need to Learn
The most fundamental social skill is merely connecting with another person. By making eye contact and teaching your child to engage in back-and-forth communication, you will be teaching them to connect. Even before children can talk, they participate in back-and-forth communication. Babies begin to understand this as early as three weeks. When babies are watching two people have a conversation, three-week-old babies have been found to change their gaze from one person to the other when the first person pauses, and it is the second person’s turn to speak.
Interact with babies often by reading, singing, and talking. Have conversations with babies, even before they can talk back. They will babble and engage as long as you get the conversation started. As your child gets older and can engage in a back-and-forth conversation, teaching your child to listen is as important as teaching your child to speak. Point out when you are quietly listening to your child and talk about how it is nice to talk without being interrupted. Talk about how everyone wants to be heard, so it is important to wait for your turn to speak. Help them practice listening by saying, “I will tell you a short story, and I want you to practice listening without saying any words.”
Another important social skill to teach young children is manners. Teach this by the example of always saying hello, goodbye, please, and thank you to your baby. This shows respect and models the behavior you want to see in your child.
Good manners go beyond please and thank you. Show your baby that you demonstrate kindness and respect towards others, basic greetings, and a positive attitude as often as possible.
Get Along With Others
It is also important to teach your child to get along with others. This can be more challenging, but it is very teachable when it is started early.
When children are young toddlers, begin to teach your child to take turns. This can start with simply singing a song. You sing a line, then say, “Your turn!” Then your child sings a line and vice versa. Eventually, carry this over to play and games. You add a block to the tower then say, “Your turn!” Your child then adds a block to the tower. When your child is a little bit older, they should understand this concept while playing games with other children. Talk to children about fairness and the importance of allowing others to have a turn, so they feel happy and have fun as well.
You can also help your children learn to work together with others by giving them simple tasks to do. “I need you and your sister to go outside and gather up sticks for our campfire tonight. Help each other so that you each find ten sticks.” Encourage collaboration in structured ways as often as you can so that children learn this skill at an early age.
The ability to follow directions is another important social skill to teach early, especially if your child goes to daycare or preschool. Children are expected to follow simple directions in any structured setting.
When children are very young, give them one direction at a time. “Pick up your toys” is actually a multiple-step direction. Children need to pick up the blocks, put them in the bin, pick up the LEGOs, put them in a different bin, etc. This can be broken down into one-step directions for young children. “Pick up all the blocks . . . Good job, now put them in the bin . . . Great, now pick up the LEGOs . . . Good, now put them in this other bin.”
Eventually, you can test your child’s ability to follow multiple-step directions. “Can you please put on your pants, then put on your socks, then put on your shoes?” Is your child able to complete all of these steps, or do you need to break it down further? You can practice this skill all day. “Please get spoons out of the drawer, then put them on the table, then get napkins out of the cupboard and put them on the table.”
Patience is a social skill that is difficult to teach but very important. This is another social skill that is best taught through modeling. Point out to your child when you are consciously practicing patience. “I am getting frustrated right now because we are running late, but I am trying hard to stay patient and calm.” Teach your child simple patience strategies, such as counting to five, taking a deep breath, and stepping away from the frustrating situation.
Social skills will continue to develop and refine throughout your child’s lifetime, but a strong foundation will give them the skills needed to succeed in friendships, relationships, and academics.