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How to Help Children Develop Social Skills to Set Them Up for a Successful Future

Any parent knows it’s not easy to teach your child social skills. Their own fears and desires get in the way of being able to interact with others, no matter what age or gender.

But there are things you can regularly do to help them be more social with people and more engaged with other children, especially if they are shy.

Here’s a guide to help build confidence in your children and help them develop social skills so they can be more social among their peers and learn the skills needed for success in life.

What Causes Shyness in A Child?

Shyness is caused by an oversensitivity to new people and situations. Most shy children are born with this oversensitivity, so it is largely genetic.

According to psychological and neuroscientific research, shy people tend to have an overactive amygdala—the part of the brain responsible for controlling emotions, including fear. The natural flight-or-fight response to danger can cause shy children to feel anxiety in social situations.

Along with genetics, other possible causes of shyness include:

  • Learned behaviour—if someone in the family exhibits shy behaviour, then a child might imitate them;
  • Family relationships—insecure attachments with parents and inconsistent caregiving can lead to anxious and shy behaviour in children, while overprotective parents may teach their kids to be inhibited and afraid of new situations;
  • Lack of social interaction—children who are isolated from people in the first years of their life may lack social skills and feel uneasy in social situations;
  • Harsh criticism—children who are bullied by friends and family members may become shy;
  • Fear of failure—if a child is pushed to excel beyond their capabilities and put down when they don’t live up to unrealistic expectations, they may develop a fear of failure that manifests as shyness.

Why Is It Important to Teach Social Skills?

The social skills kids learn at a young age will help them succeed throughout their lives. Social skills are more predictive of future social and academic success than academic skills learned at an early age.

There is a strong correlation between social skills learned in kindergarten and the well-being of the same kids at the age of 25. According to a study, kids who showed high levels of social competence in kindergarten were more likely to graduate high school, go to college, get a job, and stay out of jail than those who showed lower levels of social competence.

5 Important Social Skills for Kids

Here are five important social skills you can help teach your children:

1. Playing Well With Others

Make time for free play with other children so your child can learn to take turns, share, problem solve, negotiate, and develop other social skills through social interactions with peers.

2. Problem Solving Skills

When your child has a problem, ask them to participate in the problem-solving process instead of trying to solve their problems for them. This includes asking them to describe their problem, come up with solutions, and try a solution.

Teaching your kids to problem solve will also help them learn from the valuable life lessons of making mistakes and trying again while making improvements along the way.

3. Ability to Label and Recognize Feelings

Encourage your child to be perceptive of others’ feelings and social cues by labelling emotions. You can do this at home with your family members—e.g., “Your brother looks unhappy right now,” and while reading stories with your child.

4. Being Helpful

Acknowledge and compliment your child when they are helpful. This acknowledgement will encourage your child to continue their positive social behaviour. And teaching your child to be helpful means they can look beyond their own needs and recognize the needs of others.

5. Controlling Impulses

Impulse control, also known as delayed gratification, can be taught with movement games in childhood, such as Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, and Dance and Freeze.

Pretend play also helps children practice thinking outside of their own perspective and impulses. With pretend play, they have to take on a character, follow an imaginary storyline, prepare, take turns, and make rules to follow.

What Are the Stages of Social Skills in Early Childhood?

2- to 3-year-olds

  • Seek attention from others
  • Initiate social contact physically and verbally—say “hi” and “bye”
  • Look at the person who’s talking
  • Able to take turns talking
  • Laugh at silly things

3- to 4-year-olds

  • Take turns when playing
  • Treat dolls and stuffed animals as animate objects
  • Initiate verbal communication with real words

4- to 5-year-olds

  • Cooperate with other children
  • Pretend play as Mom or Dad
  • More likely to tattle
  • Use direct requests like “stop”

5- to 6-year-olds

  • Able to say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry”
  • Able to please their friends
  • Understand bad words and potty language
  • More strategic bargaining abilities
  • Play competitive games
  • Understand fair play/good sportsmanship

6- to 7-year-olds

  • Empathize with others
  • Prone to sharing
  • Wait for their turns
  • Better at losing
  • Less likely to blame others
  • Make jokes more often
  • Listen to others’ points of view
  • Maintain/shift/end topics appropriately

Helping Kids With Social Skills

Here are tips to help improve social development in your kids:

Lead By Example

Even at a young age, kids are watching their parents and picking up vocal tones and facial expressions. So lead by example when teaching your kids acceptable social behaviour.

Teach Empathy (And Empathize)

Empathy for others is crucial for successful social relationships. So show lots of empathy for your child’s feelings so they can learn empathy at a young age. Also, ask them how others might feel in certain situations.

Explain Personal Space

Explain to your child that everyone needs their own personal space to feel comfortable. And show them how to play with others while respecting their personal space.

Practice Social Overtures

These include how to politely get someone’s attention, start a conversation, and join a group of kids who are playing together already.

How Can You Use Play to Teach Social Skills?

There are many play activities for toddlers to develop social skills. Here are tips to encourage your kids to use social skills during play:

Limit Solo-Play Activities

Kids learn social skills best when socializing with peers. So limit the amount of time your kid spends playing alone or in front of a screen, and consider the benefits of extracurricular activities for their social development.

You can also participate in play with your child and provide positive play opportunities for them by setting up play dates so they aren’t always playing alone.

Go Over Turn-Taking and Waiting

Teach your child to take turns when it comes to playing with a toy, and help them wait and be patient until it’s their turn again. Instead of grabbing a toy from a child when you decide that their turn is up, let the child decide when they are ready to hand over the toy.

If your child has a hard time waiting and gets upset, empathize with them and hold them. They will likely stop crying and forget what they were crying about once they’ve let out their feelings.

But Don’t Force Toddlers to Share

Children need to feel secure in their ownership first before they can learn to share. So instead of forcing your toddler to share their toy, introduce the concept of taking turns.

Avoid Using Your Child’s Favourite Toy

If your child has a friend coming over, put away their favourite toy if they don’t want anyone else playing with it. Otherwise, they might feel possessive and not want to share. But also explain to your child that their friend will want to play with their toys, just as your child will expect to play with their friend’s toys when they go over to their friend’s house.

Developing social skills in toddlers and young children starts at home. So have fun and play with your kids as much as you can, teaching them invaluable social skills and emotional intelligence that will help them succeed throughout life.