During the pandemic, kid’s social worlds changed overnight. They started virtual school and engaged in socially-distanced hangouts with friends. Many parents expressed concerns about how it would impact their child’s social skills, and although we don’t have long-term data on this just yet, the good news is that many children were able to bounce back once schools reopened.
We are constantly learning from each other’s cues, and what might be obvious to one person may not be obvious to the next, so developing social skills requires patience and time. Parents can help reinforce social skills learning at home by engaging their child in the following ways:
How parents can help their kids build social skills
As parents, you can model perspective-taking by sharing your perspective, your thoughts, and feelings about a situation, and how you took into consideration other people’s feelings when deciding something.
You can also ask your child their perspectives about a situation that someone else is experiencing and then explain how that person is feeling (i.e., “Sam has been really upset since he lost his phone. What would it feel like for you if you lost your phone?”).
This is an important tool because it helps build empathy and kindness toward others.
Children may struggle with waiting their turn to speak or play. You can begin teaching this skill while playing with your child, such as taking turns playing with a toy. Or even baking a cake together!
Children as young as two or three years old can help with baking and it has been found to be a helpful tool in teaching impulse control and cooperation skills. Baking requires multiple steps, and one step may be more fun than the other but learning to patiently wait your turn is an important skill for the child to master.
By the age of 8 years, children tend to have a concrete view of the world and understand the concept of what is fair versus unfair so they may be more willing to share with others to be fair. However, children that are younger may struggle with this concept as they are not developmentally there yet.
Being able to teach sharing and cooperation by modeling it for them – whether it is labeling times when you share or the emotion behind the sharing process (“I am so happy to share my snack with you today!”) or praising the child immediately when they share – these are small ways to reinforce it.
Using media as a teaching tool
Mindfully watching television shows or movies can be a fun, interactive way to identify social skills. You can point out how different characters are feeling; when sarcasm or humor is being used; and different dynamics that are being played out on the screen.
Respecting personal space
Children may not be aware of personal space when it comes to you or when it comes to their friends. They may talk close to their friend’s face or have difficulty keeping their hands to themselves.
You can help build this social skill by creating rules in your home, reinforcing them and praising the child when the rules are followed – such as, knocking on a door before entering or asking if someone wants a hug.
Social skills groups
If you are struggling to help your child build social skills or feel your child could benefit from additional support, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Additionally, there are resources like evidence-based social skills groups available to enroll in.
For example, the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) is a world-renowned evidence-based social skills treatment for preschoolers, adolescents, and young adults. Their website also includes free social skills videos on various topics, including maintaining eye contact, using good volume control, or how to start a conversation.
Resources for parents and caregivers:
- “Let’s Talk About Body, Boundaries, Consent, and Respect,” by Jayneen Sanders
- “You, Me, and Empathy,” by Jayneen Sanders
- “What Should Danny Do?” By Ganit and Adir Levy
- “Same Same, But Different,” by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
- “Be Kind,” by Pat Zietlow Miller
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The mental health team at CHOC curated the following resources on mental health topics common to kids and teens, such as depression, anxiety, suicide prevention and more.