Kids have a lot to learn.
And naturally, you want to help them do it in a way that enriches and excites them.
Especially when it comes to social skills for kids—those intangible abilities that help them interact, communicate, and cooperate with one another.
Social skills don’t come naturally for children, they’re modeled after you and all the other influential figures in their lives.
And they need to be shaped, guided, and practiced.
Because while things like eye contact or waiting their turn might seem like small insignificant things, these social skills actually play a big role in the rest of their lives.
Helping your child develop their social skills will make it easier for them to make new friends and develop deeper relationships with peers and family members.
We’ve put together a list of social skills to teach your child and different ways to help you develop them.
And we’ll help you keep it light with some fun social games for kids too.
Your babe will be a tiny networker in no time.
In this article: 📝
- What are social skills for Kids?
- What are the benefits of social skills in early childhood?
- How do you develop social skills in children?
- 6 Social games for kids
What are social skills for Kids?
Let’s start with the basics: what are the social skills my child actually needs?
These skills are the things many of us can take for granted as adults, but they were all developed in childhood.
Good social skills allow children to form healthy attachments, interact easily, and communicate effectively.
It’s what helps them to advocate for their needs and wants, understand and respect boundaries, and vocalize their feelings.
And, of course, make life-long besties.
As you can imagine, positive social skills contribute to your kid’s overall mental health, preparing them for success in preschool and beyond.
Examples of social skills
Here are seven examples of social skills your child may benefit from having:
- Listening to others: Active listening is about having respect for other kids’ ideas, feelings, and preferences. It enables your child to build strong relationships and to learn from teachers and others, too.
- Sharing: It’s normal for kids to have a bit of an ego (“it’s mine!”), especially between the ages of two and seven. During this period, they can only see the world through their needs and perspectives. Learning to share can help them make friends—and keep them—as they move through it.
- Understanding personal space: It might be normal for your kids to come into your room unannounced or to sit on you when talking, but not everyone will find it endearing. Not only is respecting people’s personal space an essential social skill, it’s a stepping stone to understanding boundaries.
- Good manners: We probably don’t need to tell you that pleases and thank-yous go a long way. It’s the root of appreciation, thoughtfulness, and respect. And among teachers and other parents, being polite and well-mannered will often gain kids favorable attention (for all the right reasons).
- Cooperating and teamwork: In life and relationships, we often work together to achieve a goal. But it might not come naturally to everyone (and that’s okay!). Leading the way, following instructions, and taking turns are all valuable skills to encourage as your kiddo finds their way.
- Waiting their turn: Yes, patience is a virtue. But it’s a skill to be learned too. Again, thanks to that egocentric nature, kids have a hard time waiting. But nailing down delayed gratification early will help them develop better self-control and stick to long-term goals.
- Making eye contact: Kids can sometimes struggle with maintaining eye contact when talking to others. But it’s a big part of helping them focus on conversations and read facial cues and body language. No wonder it’s often seen as the most important form of nonverbal communication.
What are the benefits of social skills in early childhood?
So we know that positive social skills pave the way for a thriving adulthood full of nurturing relationships and powerful communicative abilities.
But how early can your child start reaping the benefits of social skill development?
After all, seeing markers of progress is a sure sign that you’re on the right track.
The research is in!
1. A thriving social life
It goes without saying having patience, solid listening skills, good manners, and an openness to sharing is going to gain your kiddo major brownie points.
And research already shows that even in children with early conduct problems, social skills training resulted in more prosocial behaviors with their peers.
Plus, less aggression and a better capacity to manage conflict—all the ingredients for healthy, secure relationships.
Get those birthday plans and gift bags to the ready!
2. Higher academic achievement
A 2002 study on sixth and tenth graders showed that social abilities like cooperativeness, politeness, and perseverance all contributed to academic success by encouraging learning motivation.
And they do so by supporting intrinsic motivation—the fire to do something for the internal joy it brings rather than outside pressure.
Another study spanning almost 20 years (!) found that students who showed positive social skills were more likely to graduate college and find employment.
Even better, they’re less likely to be arrested than students with poorer prosocial skills.
This is not to say that higher social skills automatically lead to better academic outcomes, but it definitely improves their chances!
3. Better health and wealth outcomes
Yet another research paper spanning decades (this time three) indicates that kids with stronger social skills—specifically self-control—had better health and wealth outcomes.
How? Well, young people with better self-control were less likely to engage in risky or impulsive behavior—like smoking or unprotected sex—that put their health at risk.
The same study also shows that children with poorer self-control were more vulnerable to developing alcohol or drug addiction and had a higher chance of committing a criminal offense.
Most interestingly, better self-control predicted positive financial outcomes regardless of IQ or socioeconomic status.
And the best part? Researchers found that children who developed better self-control as they moved into adulthood were still able to greatly improve their future outcomes.
It’s never too late to start!
4. Less stress
Taking it back to the present, having strong social skills may be able to offset stress as kids navigate new environments.
Yep, research shows that children tend to experience an increase in the stress hormone cortisol when navigating childcare settings.
And this has been greatly linked to low levels of emotional regulation, backed by poor social skills and disruptive behavior.
But a 2019 study indicates that a social skills training program could help improve interactions between children, decreasing stress and improving their health and wellbeing.
How do you develop social skills in children?
Below you’ll find some social skills activities and other suggestions to help your child learn the social skills they’ll need to be successful:
1. Be a model
Be aware of how you’re acting when your kid is watching, and model using the skills you want to see them using.
Show how you can respectfully wait your turn in a long line, help a friend in need, and speak kindly to others, even if you may not be happy with what they’re saying or doing.
It can be hard to be a perfect role model 24/7 (you’re only human), so have compassion for yourself too when you don’t get it right in the moment—that’s a worthwhile lesson for your kid too!
You can also have conversations with them or point out when you are using a skill they need to learn.
2. Talk about feelings
Speaking of conversations, talking with your child about their feelings goes a long way toward helping them regulate their emotions and learn that precious self-control.
Take a leaf out of the gentle parenting handbook and let your child know it’s OK to feel angry, sad, or disappointed.
Discuss what happened and why they’re feeling the way they are before talking about some things they could do to feel better.
And if talking about feelings isn’t your strong suit, add a children’s book about how to manage emotions to storytime.
It will only benefit their development.
3. Don’t dismiss your child’s feelings
If the 6 parenting styles have taught us anything, it’s the importance of not dismissing children’s feelings.
Validating their emotions, even if you don’t agree or think they match the context, is a critical step in teaching emotional regulation—which we’ve seen plays a big role in healthy social interactions
Knowing you’re there to listen will help your preschooler feel more comfortable discussing their emotions, which will help them learn to process them better.
4. Build your child’s self-confidence
A surefire way to help kids level up their social skills: helping them develop self-confidence and self-esteem.
This powerful combination inspires a more positive outlook on life, helps kids feel like others like them, and allows them to be proud of their accomplishments.
So let them try new things, praise their efforts more than the results, and send the message that it’s OK to make mistakes.
This can help children develop a growth mindset.
And remember, what you say to your child will become their inner voice, so do your best to be patient when correcting or disciplining your child.
5. Provide time for imaginary play
When kids engage in imaginary play, either with you or peers, they’re actually practicing real-world social skills.
‘Talking’ on the telephone, building things, playing dress up, pretending to cook, playing shop, and acting out a favorite story are all social skills in action.
If you engage in imaginary play with your child, you could even try to work in opportunities for them to practice specific skills they need to work on.
So, if they’re having a hard time sharing, you could pretend to eat at a restaurant together and share fun imaginary dishes or role-play friends sharing toys.
Find new friends nearby
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6. Set Up Playdates
Don’t underestimate the benefits of playdates with other children around the same age.
These types of interactions give your child a chance to practice some of the social skills they’ve been working on with their peers.
And while it can be tempting to switch off, try observing the children playing together and offer praise when you see your child doing something you’ve been working on, such as sharing or taking turns.
It will also allow you to intervene if there’s an issue and help your child choose the right response.
7. Give your preschooler more responsibilities
Responsibility is another valuable social skill that teaches kids the importance of taking care of their belongings and, you know, other people.
By being responsible for their actions and learning that what they do has an impact, your child can develop a robust sense of self-worth and respect.
Start by giving your preschooler some age-appropriate responsibilities around the house, like setting the table or helping you sort the laundry.
Doing so can help them feel empowered and remind them that they’re an important part of the family.
8. Understand your child’s limits
Be sure to know and respect your child’s limits when working on social skills with them.
If your child is more introverted, they may not be as comfortable interacting with others and may prefer smaller playdates with just one other child.
On the other hand, some children may prefer to be with a larger group of children.
Both are 100% acceptable as long as they’re learning.
9. Be consistent
Even though it isn’t always easy, it’s important that you have a clear set of expectations and consequences.
This will help make it very clear to your child which behaviors are acceptable and which aren’t.
What’s more, this level of predictability allows them to build confidence, security, and trust—everything needed for deeper emotional stability.
Helping your children learn social skills is no easy task.
But, with some practice, modeling, and consistency, your child will be well on their way to a healthy, thriving adulthood (eep).
6 Social games for kids
The awesome thing about kids (and we hope a reassuring thing for you) is that, in the vast majority of cases, they’ll learn social skills all by themselves.
Because that’s what kids do.
But that also means being more discerning about who they learn those skills from.
It can be a bit disconcerting to see your little one’s ego in full swing when they snatch or invade someone’s space.
And worse, when it’s being actively encouraged or ignored.
And at that point, you might want to step in and guide them toward more appropriate social skills.
The best way?
Social skills training for kids doesn’t need to be a chore—neither for you nor for your little one.
Here are some games and activities that you can try with your child to get them to develop their social skills:
- Simon says: A classic. One person says some instructions (“do a little dance”, “clap your hands”), and the others should only do that thing when the person says “Simon says” first. It’s a fun way to learn about listening properly, following directions, and patience.
- A staring contest: If your kid struggles to make eye contact, turn it into a competition. You can even do it with a twist: the starters can tell each other stories while doing it.
- Music and rhythm games: Musical chairs and musical statues are games that can help listening skills. But music can also be used much more imaginatively, like working with your child to create a dance routine to their favorite song. Studies have found that making rhythms together can help children share emotions and experiences collectively. And that’s what social skills are all about.
- Painting together: One piece of paper, one set of colors. You and your child decide what to draw together and get down to work. It’ll be a masterpiece—and they’ll improve their sharing and teamwork skills.
- Charades: As a social activity for kids, charades can be incredibly fun for some and quite daunting for others. But it helps develop ideas around body language and non-verbal expression—and this can help their understanding of personal space. You can do it with emotions rather than films to make it a little easier.
- Gardening: It doesn’t have to be in a garden, if you don’t have one. But cultivating a plant together with a friend or sibling can help kids learn responsibility for something. And they can get all mucky too.
Some tips to remember during kids’ social activities
The games and activities help a lot.
But, if you want to develop social skills for kids, it’s worth bearing some general things in mind.
- Sometimes, it’s good for kids to lose: Obviously, you’ll want your kids to be winners! But losing can be a skill to learn when playing, too.
- Pleases and thank-yous: During any social activity, kids can be practicing manners—particularly when they’re collaborating together.
- Tidying away: Games and social activities are great. But, when they’re over, you can teach them to be responsible and help clear up afterward.
We know it can be a bit of a worry to think about how your kid will grow up, but we want to say: you’re doing great!
After all, you’re here, learning new ways to give your child’s development a boost.
So, keep it up!