Social skills are an essential part of any child’s growth and development, shaping them into the person they’ll be as an adult. Those who lack social skills are more likely to have substance abuse issues, relationship problems, addictions and legal trouble. But those with a solid grasp on skills like listening, communication and obedience are likely to flourish as adults. As a parent, the biggest impact you can make on your child is to teach them these skills early through fun activities they can draw upon for years to come.
1. Emotion Charades
Instead of using animals, chores or people to play charades, use emotions. Write down words like sad, angry and happy on scraps of paper and take turns acting out the word. Some kids are easily confused by facial expressions so naming them in a game-like setting will help them better distinguish between body language and emotions in real life. If your child is having trouble understanding or acting out the words, draw pictures instead.
2. Staring Contest
If your child is shy or extremely competitive, try having a staring contest instead. This will encourage them to make eye contact both during and after the game. Developing this social skill is particularly important because it indicates you are focused and paying attention, especially when someone is speaking. Your eyes also reflect your innermost thoughts and feelings so, if successful eye contact will help your child both understand and communicate with others more effectively.
3. Take Turns Telling a Story
Encourage cooperation, patience and mindful listening by crafting a story together. Begin by speaking one sentence, introducing the main character and place, then let your little one add onto the story with a sentence or two. Working together to form a somewhat-cohesive plot and characters will promote cooperation as you form the story little by little. It will also help your child develop patience and listening skills as they absorb the next part of the story and wait for you to finish telling your part before they speak.
4. Read and Recount Books
Further test their active listening skills by reading a book to your child and periodically asking them to recount the tale thus far. Fill in the gaps where they leave out information and encourage them to continue listening as you speak. Additionally, don’t allow your kids to interrupt you when you’re talking. This will set them up for respectful, mindful conversation as they grow and teach them to look for natural pauses in conversation.
5. Simon Says
This oldie but goodie helps your child fine-tune their listening skills, and establish obedience. Players can only succeed by listening closely for the tell-tale words, Simon says and doing exactly as the leader instructs. This teaches them to pay attention and make informed decisions. If they fail to do listen or obey, the whole room will quickly notice, and they’ll lose. High stakes in a fun setting make these skills more enjoyable to learn and implement.
6. Have a Tea Party
Practice manners and respect by having a tea party. Invite siblings, pets and stuffed animals for a truly momentous occasion. Then, encourage your child to use please and thank you when asking for a beverage or snacks. Discourage burping or rude behavior by reminding them that this tea party is a formal event. Add some fun pinky-finger-points and silly accents to keep the setting fun and interactive. Continue to promote their good behavior at the dinner table, where their manners probably matter most right now.
7. Toy Stations
Kids are naturally selfish, so teaching them to share is a big task. However, with time and practice, they can learn to share and respect boundaries. One way to encourage sharing is to set visual limits, like a timer, to let kids know when it’s time to give up a toy and move on to another. And, before a playdate, remind them it’s totally acceptable for friends to play with their toys for a while. Remind them sharing is part of being a good friend.
Additional Ideas to Encourage Growth
The best way to help kids learn key social skills is to place them in a real-life social setting. Take them to the park and let them interact with other kids on the playground. Or, enroll them in a daycare and set up playdates to regularly introduce your child to kids their age and social situations that call upon their skills.
There are also a number of online programs and learning websites that can help your child establish essential social skills. Simply choose a skill, then select videos, games worksheets and activities based on your child’s needs. Other sites offer carefully curated lesson plans to help your little one reach objectives and prepare them for school, dinners, family events and other social settings. With so many options and resources available, you can begin encouraging your child to learn these neccessary life skills today.