Five social skills your child may be missing

Five social skills your child may be missing

…and what you can do about it!

Why are social skills so important? Because the ability to socially interact can enable learning. We live in a social environment, and our kids are missing out on key educational opportunities if they struggle with social skills. Identifying social skills your child may be missing (early on) can be key to helping them catch up quickly.

Social skills your child may be missing:

  • Reading non-verbal cues. More than half of what happens in communication occurs non-verbally. Some kids are naturally more in tune with body language and tone, while others need to practice to pick up on these skills. 

What you can do about it? Start early by labeling emotions and practicing pretending to be happy, sad, scared, bored, angry. Ask preschoolers to show you what it looks like when they are excited and then guess what emotion you are trying to show with your body. Make it fun and make it a game, but draw attention to the eyes, the shoulders, the posture, and the face and how those change when people are trying to communicate non-verbally. Model and label these skills while your child is playing, such as “Oh look! Your friend is not looking at the game. Maybe she’s bored and you could pick something else!” or “He’s pulling away right now. Let’s check and see if he’s still having fun!” Kids need to have their attention brought to subtle changes in non-verbal cues so they can learn to read them. 

  • Staying on topic. Kids are known for their wandering thoughts, which is adorable, but also can be very limiting socially. If kids drone on and on and on about Minecraft with a friend who just does not care, they are likely to have a hard time keeping friends. 

What you can do about it? Conversation flow is a very intricate skill to teach. You have to learn to listen, respond with a corresponding question or comment, and weave your own thoughts into the topic at hand without getting off track. Hard stuff! Conversation Train is a great book that describes conversation and it is not just for children with autism! Use this book to explain how parts of a conversation come together and then practice using those skills with mini conversations. 

  • Joining a group. Some kids are great at waiting for a break in a game and asking if they can join, but some need help. It’s not always natural when and how to join someone in play. It’s especially hard when the game is open-ended like Lego or pretend play. 

What to do about it? Your best bet for helping your child learn to join a group is to practice and model. Do some role playing to notice the break in the game and then ask if it’s okay to join. Practice this in the living room before heading out to the park. If you are helping your child learn to join in open-ended play, teach them to ask “what are you playing?” or “That’s cool! What are you building?’ so they can learn the conversation starters for open-ended play. 

  • Asking to stop. The biggest tantrum creators for young kids during social time is when they want to stop playing or they want someone to stop playing with them and they just don’t know what to do. This is also a skill that has to be taught often. 

What to do about it? You guessed it: this is a modeling opportunity. You’ll have to show your child how to ask for a pause in the play. When you and your child are playing together and you can see that they are getting frustrated say, “You can ask to have some time to play alone. Would you like that?” Another chance to learn is when your child is interacting with their sibling or peer and it’s annoying them. You can say, “If you want a break, just ask your brother to stop playing with the drum for a bit.” Encourage your kids to advocate for themselves by asking for a break or asking to stop when they don’t love what’s happening around them. 

  • Cooperating. Cooperation skills are the adult version of sharing. We teach children to share from an early age, which is when they get a turn and then someone else gets a turn, but cooperation is when both people work on the same thing for the same outcome. It’s a hard skill! There are adults that still haven’t mastered it, but it’s a valuable skill for adept social interaction that gives kids a leg up on socializing. 

What to do about it? Set up opportunities to practice cooperating. Fill a wagon together and take the toys out to the garden to play with both people pulling the wagon because it’s sooooo heavy. Build a giant fort that requires four hands to hold the sheets in place while you build. Find ways to play that require more than one person to be successful. 

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Five social skills your child may be missing...and what you can do about it!

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