Young children need to learn life skills as much as they need to learn academic subjects. Perhaps one of the most important life skills is how to get along in social situations. Teaching your children social skills and practicing while they are little will help children interact better with others and conduct themselves well in public. This builds a good foundation for them to form positive relationships during both childhood and adulthood. In this blog, we’re highlighting six essential social skills for kids to learn and providing helpful tips for how to practice.
Top 6 Social Skills for Kids
Help your child establish positive relationships with others by teaching them these six basic social skills!
1) Working with Others & Sharing
Your child will have to learn to cooperate with others in order to gain and maintain friendships. Cooperating means working together to achieve a common goal. Typically, this involves sharing and taking turns.
Teaching your child to share and work nicely with others helps develop patience and leadership. They learn how to help others, cheer others on, and overcome challenges as a team—all highly sought skills when they join the workforce.
How to Practice Cooperating
Have your child practice by giving them opportunities to work with others. This can be as simple as making dinner as a family or a group building project, such as a model airplane or snowman. Emphasize the importance of sharing materials and making sure that everyone gets to contribute equally.
2) Listening & Making Eye Contact
Active listening is a key part of communication that involves more than just hearing what someone is telling you. When you actively listen to someone, you carefully concentrate on what they’re saying to make sure you understand and respond appropriately.
Teaching your child to listen actively helps them become an engaged learner and better at following directions. But being an active listener also shows others that you care about them and what they have to say. Be sure to explain the importance of making eye contact with someone while they’re speaking, as this shows that they’re fully invested in the conversation.
Children who listen thoughtfully are more likely to become effective communicators and develop positive, trustworthy relationships throughout their lives.
How to Practice Listening
To strengthen your child’s listening skills, engage in conversations with them frequently and pay attention to their verbal and nonverbal responses.
- Are they engaged in what you’re saying?
- Are they maintaining eye contact and appropriate posture?
- Are they responding to you appropriately?
- Are they interrupting?
Stop the conversation every so often to check if they followed along by asking them a related question. One of the best ways to teach your child how to be a good listener is to model being one yourself. When your child is talking to you, try to give them your undivided attention.
3) Being Patient
Your patience is tested in some capacity every day, whether it’s something small like waiting your turn to speak during a meeting or large like reaching a savings goal to buy the car you want. Having patience is critical in life, and it certainly isn’t easy.
Like adults, a child’s patience is also tested on a daily basis. They’re asked to wait until they finish dinner to eat dessert. Wait until baby sister wakes up to go to the park. Wait until their friend finishes playing with the toy so they can have a turn. Wait six more months until their next birthday. They can’t lose their composure every time they don’t get what they want right away, as it could negatively impact their mental health and friendships.
It’s important to introduce and then reinforce this skill at a young age. The key to helping your child develop patience is to promote delayed gratification. Teach them that good things typically take time and are worth waiting for. You may encounter tempers and tears at first, but in time, they’ll learn to tolerate the wait.
How to Practice Patience
Here are a few simple ways that you can encourage your child to be patient:
- Practice situations where they must wait their turn.
- Don’t allow your child to interrupt others.
- Set small goals to work toward for the day, week, or month.
- Use visual cues or timers to help with waiting.
- Stay true to your word—if you say that you’ll go to the park at 3 pm, do it.
4) Respecting Space and Boundaries
Everybody’s personal space boundaries are different. Some people don’t mind getting big hugs, answering personal questions, or having long conversations. Others are the exact opposite (or fall somewhere in the middle). That’s why it’s crucial to explicitly teach kids to respect personal space and boundaries while also firmly establishing their own.
If your child is uncomfortable with hugs (or other forms of physical touch/affection), let them know it’s okay to decline. Same goes if they’re introverted or don’t want to talk about things that feel too personal. They should be honest and simply say, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable talking about that.” This will help them feel comfortable establishing boundaries as they get older.
In addition to creating their own boundaries, you should also teach your child how to identify and respect those of others. They may want to give their new friend a big hug goodbye when they leave the jungle gym, but that friend might not like hugs. Teach your child to ask before they enter someone’s personal space so they don’t accidentally cross a boundary. Being clear about boundaries ensures that your child and those around them feel at ease.
How to Practice Respecting Boundaries
One of the best ways to help your child learn to respect boundaries is to model it for them. Before you pull them in for a big embrace, ask “Would you like a hug?” If they’re upset about something, say “I can see that you’re sad. Do you want to talk about it?” These questions may seem silly if you know that your child loves affection or talking about their feelings, but it’s showing them that you respect their space and privacy.
5) Regulating Emotions
Another important social skill for kids to learn from a young age is emotional self-regulation.
Self-regulation is the ability to control your emotions and behavioral responses in social situations. This is often a difficult skill for small children to develop, especially when distressed. You’ve heard an angry or frustrated child throw a loud tantrum in a store or restaurant before—that’s likely because they hadn’t learned to regulate their emotions yet.
Eventually, most children begin to understand what behaviors are and aren’t appropriate in social settings, and they control their impulses to certain stimuli accordingly. They learn how to calm themselves down, express their emotions effectively, and adjust to changes without making a scene—all of which are signs of a mature and sensible individual.
How to Practice Emotional Regulation
Often, parents try to avoid having their child experience difficult situations as a protective response. Or, when upsetting situations arise, the parent will do everything they can to provide a positive distraction to “fix” it, such as a piece of candy or new toy. While well-intended, these strategies can be counterproductive.
Of course, we’re not suggesting that you purposefully put your child in upsetting situations so they learn to self-regulate. When those moments naturally arise, coach your child through it by showing them ways to handle their emotions well. Talk to them about how they’re feeling, and share ways that you self-soothe when you feel similarly.
This skill will likely take some time to build up, so be patient and give praise often.
6) Using Manners
You’ve likely heard it said that “manners matter.” Well, whoever said it is right! Manners do matter, and they’re particularly necessary when it comes to making impressions and maintaining relationships.
Teaching your child to speak and act politely shows others that they’re respectful, kind, and likable. Rude or inappropriate behaviors, on the other hand, can lead to children developing a poor reputation. It’s important to monitor how your child interacts with others and teach them to do so appropriately. Some basic manners that children should learn are:
- Greetings and goodbyes
- Introducing themself
- Saying please and thank you
- Saying excuse me
- Apologizing when necessary
- Covering their mouth when sneezing or coughing
- Not interrupting others
- Putting away electronic devices when someone is speaking to them
How to Practice Using Manners
Again, modeling is a highly effective strategy when teaching your child manners. Make it a habit to use manners yourself when interacting with your child and others. Your child will pick up on it and start behaving similarly. Be sure to offer praise when you notice them being polite. And if they forget to use their manners occasionally, provide a gentle reminder.
These six examples are certainly not the only social skills for kids that you should help your child develop over time, but they’re some of the most important. We hope that you find these strategies helpful in your home!