Updated: Sep 12, 2020
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many families were required to finish out the previous school year online. With many school districts already announcing virtual or distance learning for the upcoming school year, many parents are wondering if their child will fall behind not only educational wise, but socially as well. Lack of appropriate social skill development as a child can cause problems including public speaking fears, social anxiety and even affect potential career paths when they are older.
So how do we instill or improve good social skills at home? Here are some ways:
1. Model. One of the best ways for a child to learn is by watching their family and friends engage in proper social skills. Make a habit of being polite. Become more in touch with family and friends using face to face platforms if in person is not possible. Be sure to use appropriate greetings and conversation starters.
2. Social stories. Therapists are huge fans of social stories and for good reason! Social stories are personalized short stories that depict a social situation that your child might encounter or need help navigating. Parents can create social stories themselves (personally, I love including real life photos into the stories), or you can find them a plenty online, such as this great one that also addresses distant learning: Social stories for distant learning, or this great book with mini narratives for teaching social skills.
3. Don’t speak for your child. Even if your child is painfully shy, when asking questions, give pause and let the child respond. If the child becomes frustrated or upset when given time to respond, give options to respond to. Instead of “What do you want to do this morning?” ask, “Would you like to paint or draw first?” Follow up with phrases , for example: “Painting! That’s a great idea! I like painting too! I like to mix the colors to make new colors. That always makes me happy. Do you like to mix colors? Which ones?”
4. Play games and sports. Playing sports is a fabulous way to teach social norms such as sharing, turn taking, positive attitude, problem solving, organization, rules and communication. From card games to ball games, they all have benefits. Don’t forget pretend play! Dress up and make believe are powerful tools for a child’s development. Board games have been shown to forge friendly relationships as well as other benefits (link to research). Some of my favorites include: Guess Who, UNO, Candy Land, and Connect Four.
5. Read books. Reading books is a great way to introduce feelings, discuss emotions, learn social norms, and question and comment about the characters behaviors. Many books teach lessons and specifically mention emotions and what behaviors are appropriate. You can find a great list of books on this post: Books For Anxious Moments
6. Teach. Social communication includes spoken words as well as body language. Explicitly teaching your child to understand and identify emotions goes a long way in their social development. Role playing, flash cards, discussing emotions openly and freely as well as pointing them out in stories and movies is a great way to bring awareness to and build on social skills.