• Dr Martine Prunty

How to nurture preschool social skills


Research suggests that the use of positive social skills with peers early on can lead to the development of positive peer relationships, acceptance, and friendships. Children who arrive at kindergarten with social competencies generally have an easier time forming relationships with their peers and better school outcomes.


Some skills that are useful for interacting with peers and building social relationships include:

- Getting a friend’s attention - Sharing objects - Asking peers to share objects - Providing a play idea to a peer

- Saying something nice to a friend


What can you do to help?


· Teach your child about emotions


Research has suggested that those children who better understand emotions tend to be more liked by their peers. Maintain an openness with your child so that feelings are named and talked about. You can show them that you relate by talking about situations that make us feel sad and what makes us feel good. This also helps children to learn how to regulate their own emotions.


· Always be emotionally available to your child


A child’s social development builds on their primary relationships – the one they have with their parents. What they see and what you model to them every day forms the basis for what they come to learn as normal interaction. Children rely on their relationship with their caregivers to feel emotionally secure and this fosters the healthy development of relationships with peers. Further, this is how they develop their empathy skills, which has been a characteristic of children linked with secure and health peer relationships.


· Model positive, warm emotions at home


Try to demonstrate a “can do” attitude rather than a sense of hopelessness and helplessness in the face of setbacks. Displays of negative emotion in parents that are frequent lead to a sense that that parent is not a source of comfort and are not resilient to deal with a child’s worries. Try to be encouraging and upbeat with a problem-solving attitude. Try to use opportunities to demonstrate good social behaviours, such as thanking the courier for delivering a package and thanking your partner for getting you a drink. Another opportunity for good demonstration is the use of pretend play as you can help to create common scenarios that can transfer into a realistic interaction at a later time.


· Talk with your children about their experiences

Have a discussion with them about their day. Often kids need prompting to remember things that have happened so it can be helpful to ask them to name 3 good things and 1 bad thing that occurred. Being away of what is happening not only keeps you informed but shows your child that you are interested. It is also an opportunity for you to help them develop problem-solving skills as you navigate social interactions with them.


· Remain Calm when your child is distressed


This is another opportunity to demonstrate emotional regulation and empathy. You need to teach your child that you are bigger and stronger than any worry that they have so that they continue to turn to you for help and support. Further, this also demonstrates to them how to respond when their friends are upset so that they can show empathy and be comforting.


· Realise that sharing is difficult!


Children find it hard to see beyond the immediate future. They may worry they won’t get their toy back – and sometimes the experience can be distressing and make them less likely to share the next time. Be patient when encouraging sharing – and pick your battles. Don’t insist that new toys are shared and if you suspect it may cause conflict, put the toy away before friends visit.

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