by Carol Grise
February is a month where hearts are everywhere, with schools, child care centers, and families talking about kindness, caring, and love.
Families can do these activities to develop social skills:
Help children to label their feelings. During conversation with a preschooler, adults and older siblings should label their own feelings. “I feel angry about…” or “I am worried about…” will help a young child understand his own feelings, learning positive ways to express those feelings with words, rather than with actions, such as tantrums.
Accept and celebrate what makes each child special. Recognize unique abilities with words and actions, showing each child that he is loved and valued. Smile, touch, and hug your child. A child who feels loved and accepted by his family will a have a positive view of himself and his abilities, be more anxious to learn, and be more understanding of others.
Teach children tolerance. Help a child talk about the things they have in common with family members and people in their school or community, as well as with other children around the world. Remember young children watch an adult’s behavior toward others and will model their own actions based upon what they see at home.
Enjoy one-on-one time with each child. Regularly play and hold an uninterrupted conversation with every child. Take a walk, read a book together, go on a picnic, or have a restaurant “date” for two. Listen to what your child has to say—his fears, joys, and disappointments. Encourage him to think of his own solutions and discuss these options. Special time with a caring adult creates the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns, improving family relationships and building up a child’s feelings of self-confidence.
Use positive words to guide behavior. State family rules and behavior guidelines clearly. Give examples of what you want the child to do. Say, “Please use kind words.” instead of “Stop saying mean things!” Teach ways to express wants and needs in appropriate ways. Adults and older siblings are role models for good manners by showing kindness and patience at home and in public. Have your child practice using “please”, “thank you”, and other good manners at home and in the community.
Encourage independence. Provide opportunities to master new skills. Give only necessary help, such as safety tips, letting him explore the new challenge. Help him figure out a new approach if the challenge proves frustrating, then let him try again. Developing a “stick-to-it” attitude when facing challenges at home will help him face learning challenges.
Give opportunities to cooperate and collaborate with others. Ask family members to work together, take turns, and share. Play a game. Wash the car. Do a puzzle. Plan a family trip. Being able to work cooperatively with others is a skill that has life-long value.
Read together daily. Books open the door to family talks about the challenges of growing up, such as sibling rivalry, going to school, or making friends. When sharing books with caring adults, children are comforted as well as challenged to open their minds to new ideas and words. After reading, discuss characters’ feelings and actions. Ask your child what he would have done in the story situation and why. Your librarian can recommend good books to start conversations on social skills topics.
Take time in February to begin developing your preschooler’s social skills. Knowing how to get along and communicate in appropriate ways will help your child have positive interactions with peers and adults. Being able to work cooperatively with others is a skill with lifetime value, a school readiness skill just as important as knowing the alphabet.