Have you ever been the mom sitting at the park on a beautiful summer day, and your little one has latched onto another kid, following them around the park as they try to walk away? Your kid asks to play, and the other child says “no”? What do you do when your child comes over to you feeling totally dejected and asks, “Why don’t the other kids want to play with me?” Or maybe you’re the mom of a super shy kid who almost seems to be afraid of other children and runs away or turns their back to them until they go away. Either way, teaching little ones how to socialize can be tricky! Here are a few tips and tricks to give your child the skills to make friends and learn to read social cues.
Teach Your Child About Empathy
A huge part of socialization for kids is learning how to determine what other people are feeling. Empathy helps children form connections with others because they can better understand their peers and how they are feeling. A great way to start teaching your child empathy is through practice scenarios. Give your child an example of different social situations and ask them how they think someone might feel if that particular scenario happened to them. For instance, you could say, “Imagine at school Lily was building a tower out of blocks and another child knocked it down,” “How do you think that would make Lily feel?” Another excellent tool for teaching empathy is a set of feelings flashcards. Both methods are a great start towards teaching your child to pay attention to how others feel, which sets them on the right path to excellent socialization skills.
Encourage Their Interests
Shared interests are a significant building block for establishing good friendships. If your child expresses an interest in athletics, art, or music, you should do your best to encourage them to pursue that by signing them up for a class or joining a team with other kids. Having that shared interest gives your child something to talk about and the opportunity to meet kids who like the same things that your kid likes. Team sports are especially great for developing social skills through teamwork, cooperation, and shared goals. While you do eventually want to encourage your children to pursue friendships with a diverse range of people with different likes and experiences, starting them out with children with similar interests helps ease them into developing good social skills.
Teaching your child to use proper manners will go a long way towards helping them establish good social skills. Part of making friends includes spending time with other kids and their parents. Teaching your child to say “Please” and “Thank You,” share, and what topics are appropriate or inappropriate to discuss outside of their own home is a massive step in the right direction. Good manners or not-so-good ones are one of the first things that teachers, parents, and even other kids will notice about your child. Giving your child a firm grasp on proper social norms and politeness gives them a considerable step up on building good relationships with other kids and adults that will be part of their lives.
Some kids have no “personal space bubble”; they’ll hop up onto the lap of an acquaintance or get right next to your face to ask you a question. Others have a larger-than-normal personal space boundary. An essential part of teaching your child how to interact with others is teaching them about personal boundaries. You should practice teaching your child the signs to determine if someone feels uncomfortable or what to do if they feel uncomfortable. Personal boundaries also include knocking on closed doors, keeping their hands to themselves, knowing what questions are ok to ask, which ones aren’t, etc. It’s also important to stress to your child that it’s OK for them t to say “No” or ask others to “Stop” if they feel uncomfortable with something another child is doing concerning their own boundaries. Looking back at the scenario from the beginning of this post, teaching your kids to respect personal boundaries also means teaching them that sometimes other kids won’t want to play, and that’s ok! Help your child practice introducing themselves to other kids, asking if they’d like to play, and accepting their answer, whether “yes” or “no.”
Much of this blog post has been about teaching your child how to interact with and respect others. While important, it is equally important that your child knows how to demand the same respect for themselves. Teaching your child to think about how interactions with others make them feel and if those feelings are good or bad is monumentally important! Encourage your child to name their emotions by talking about how a particular interaction made them feel (happy, sad, mad, nervous, yucky, etc.). Ensure they know that if a social interaction with another child or adult makes them feel uncomfortable, they should find a trusted adult and let them know. Give your child permission to say “Stop” or “No” if someone is doing something to them that they don’t like. You should also teach your children about safe socialization practices when dealing with strangers. Some good “Stranger Danger Rules” include:
- Stay with a trusted adult (teacher, parent, family member)
- Do not go anywhere with anyone you don’t know (EVEN OTHER KIDS)
- Bad Guys don’t always look mean or scary
- If a stranger follows you or grabs you, yell “STOP, I DON’T KNOW YOU!” as loudly as you can fight back and get to a trusted adult as fast as you can.
- If someone touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, yell “NO!” and get away from them.
- Tell mom or dad about places that feel scary and unsafe.
Many school districts have additional tips for safety with strangers. Check out your local school district website for more information.
Socialization skill is something that is developed over a lifetime. These tips are just a few of the things you can do to help your little ones start learning how to interact with others. If you feel like your child is struggling more than average with making friends and interacting with other kids, consider talking to their teacher or even a counselor to determine if their social skills are improving or if they may need additional help.
BONUS TIP: A great way to encourage your child to make friends is by inviting their classmates to a fun event or party! Check out our Blog Post Your Guide to Throwing an Awesome Kid’s Party for our professional tips and tricks for throwing the best party of the year!