During the toddler and preschool years, there often is a heavy focus on pre-academic skills such as identifying shapes and colors or learning to write their name. While these skills are important, research shows that your child’s social and emotional skills during these young years are actually a better predictor of his/her academic success and beyond. The ability to inhibit impulses and practice empathy not only helps them learn in the classroom, it also helps them navigate adult life as well. The good news is that social skills are teachable at this age just like numbers and letters!
Model the Language
Healthy social skills are taught through providing models and guidance. Telling your child, “It is not okay to take a toy from someone,” lets them know what not to do, but go a step further and provide what you want them to do instead. For example with your toddler, model holding your hand out and asking “My turn?” Remember that it’s okay if the other child does not share with yours right away or vice versa. Waiting for something we want is a lesson worth learning too! You can support those skills by validating their disappointment and offering an alternative. “I know, it is so hard to wait, but I know you can do it. Would you like a book or swings while you wait?”
Provide the Opportunity
Children are hands-on learners and social skills are no different. They need the opportunity to practice skills they are learning and problem solve through tricky situations with other children. Siblings can provide some opportunity for learning these skills, but children can learn so much through same-aged peers who are working on the same skills. An older sibling is more likely to accommodate their actions, while a peer provides the opportunity to attempt to clearly effectively and appropriately communicate your child’s wants and needs. These opportunities include going to the neighborhood playground, attending music/art/tumbling classes, visiting the local children’s museum, and having play dates.
It’s a Process
Just like learning to play an instrument or a new language, it takes time and mistakes will happen. Try to be patient as you find yourself repeating the same words and actions. It’s sinking in! Reinforce their efforts and successes, and try pointing out specifics. Instead of “Good job!” try “You asked for a turn so nicely by saying ‘turn, please’!” or “You did it! You played with the blocks while you waited your turn. Now it’s your turn!”
Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about facilitating social interactions with your child, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-332-9439.
Becky Clark, MS, DT
Reference:Denham, S. A., Bassett, H. H., & Zinsser, K. (2012). Early childhood teachers as socializers of young children’s emotional competence. Early Childhood Education Journal, 40(3), 137-143.
Photo Credit:Three Angels Preschool, Infant Center, Ventura California, School via https://threeangelspreschool.org