With the increased isolation of covid lockdowns and less socialization among children, many parents are concerned about how their kid’s social skills are developing. Inside UM Club we chatted with Mariko Fairly, behaviour analyst from Parenting Fairly, all about supporting our child’s socialization skills, and we’ve taken some of the big takeaways from that interview and brought them here for you.
If you’re interested in learning more on the topic you can check out the interview inside UM Club where we have new guest expert interviews released every week. Hearsay and tips from friends and influencers only go so far. UM Club is a space where you can get information from credible vetted experts and feel confident applying the information to your unique situation.
What are social skills in a child?
Social skills are how our children, and everybody, interacts within social situations. It’s important to teach our children the values that are important and the behaviours that are acceptable within a society. In teaching our kids social skills we are teaching them interaction and reciprocation, impulse control, how to contribute, and how to fit into the world around you. These social skills vary for different cultures and societies, and it’s important to remember that every child learns at their own pace.
How can I help my child with social skills?
The good news is that social skills are learned behaviours and you have years to help them by fostering their skill development. In the list below we’ll walk you through 9 tips for improving your kid’s social skills. If you’d like to learn more on the topic you can check out our guest expert interview inside UM Club with behavioural analyst Mariko Fairly from Parenting Fairly. All of these tips are taken from our interview where we go much more in depth in this discussion.
9 Tips for improving your kid’s social skills
Have good communication with teachers and caretakers
Each year speak with your child’s teachers and caretakers to see how you and they can best support them. If they’re feeling left out at school or daycare you can ask them who in the class has similar interests, temperament, or social skills and may be a good fit to introduce or facilitate playdates with.
Spend 1:1 time with your child daily
Spending quality 1:1 time with your child every day has so many benefits. In the scope of supporting their social skills having this 1:1 time will help give you insight into their interests and strengths so you know how to better support them.
It will also help warm them up and feel comfortable opening up to you. When we’re so go go all the time it can be unapproachable for our kids to really open up. When we take the time to slow down and connect we ready them to open up to us and share so we can learn more of what’s going on from their perspective.
Set up 1:1 playdates
Playdates are great for improving your kid’s social skills. Large groups can be overwhelming, especially for “shy” kids so start with 1:1 settings. You can prepare some activities beforehand to help facilitate their interactions. Activities like going for a walk, watching a show, baking, or eating, are nice low pressure situations where they don’t have to verbally interact the whole time.
Three kids can be a crowd with the less social kid being left behind. When your child is ready you can move to playdates with four kids for more balanced interactions.
Prime them before going to (new) places
Before going somewhere new or to an event you can ease your child’s anxiety and help prepare them by giving them a rundown before you arrive at their house. Let them know who, what, where, when, why, and how, as well as simple generic ways to greet and respond. You can also let them know what to do if they need help or a break.
Role-playing is a great way to practice those social skills! When you’re having 1:1 playtime with your child you can run through various scenarios to see how they respond and practice the social skills you would like to see. For example you can take their toy, see how they respond, and then walk through how to use their words when something like that happens.
Enroll your child in a class
The key to this is finding something your child is interested in so it is a pleasant and joyful experience for them. In attending that class or team, they have opportunities to interact with other kids and build their confidence. It doesn’t have to be a team format. Even solo sports or activities like martial arts, swimming, art classes, girl/boy scouts, all have opportunities to interact and support each other as a group.
Facilitate as needed
You may need to hop right in to help facilitate and warm things up before your chid is ready to interact with other kid’s by themselves. You can hop on the play structure, join the board game, ask leading questions, or bring something your child is interested in like pokemon cards, favourite action figures, etc.
Praise the process and acknowledge their effort
They’re not going to build their social skills over night and it’s important to praise the process and acknowledge where they are and how far they’ve come. You can validate that it’s ok to feel two things at once, nervous and excited, and praise them for the behaviour you’re wanting to see.
Teach self advocacy
Self advocacy is incredibly important for our kids to be able to stand up for themselves and others. They need to learn to use their voice to say things like “I don’t want to”, “Hey, that’s mine”, etc. It’s also helpful to walk them through what to do in these situations like finding someone else to play with or telling a trusted adult.
Your child’s social skills have lots of opportunities to be developed over time. Keep working with your kid and they’ll get there in time. For more information on this topic check out our UM Club interview, Supporting Your Child’s Socialization Skills, and check out Parenting Fairly for more resources.
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