Some children are naturally social, and others struggle with finding their place in social circles. As parents we can support even the most timid child to learn positive social skills that can last a lifetime. Below are ten tips to support social development in children.
1. Allow Your Child to Have Influence in Your Family
Give your child a voice in your house and she will have an easier time speaking up in other situations. The best way to foster this in your family is by active listening. Give your child your full, undivided attention and weigh carefully what it is that they are saying. Even young children want to know that their feelings are important and are being heard. Children of all ages begin to recognize that they can earn certain rights and privileges if they do what is expected of them. They thrive when they have a perception of power, some ability to shape their life.
Too often parents look at parenting as correcting undesirable behaviours, and their parenting styles dissolve into complaining, nagging and reacting. If you focus on fostering and developing the positive behaviours in your child, then the negative behaviours won’t be so overwhelming. Use positive reinforcement to encourage positive behaviours in your child. Reward positive behaviours by giving them something they value – some one-on-one time doing a favourite activity, computer and television privileges, a play date with a friend, etc. Try to avoid using sweet treats (such as candy and chocolates) as a reward – this reinforces unhealthy eating behaviours as a reward for good work – an issue that often persists into adulthood.
3. Set a Social Example
Children who struggle with socializing are often children of poor socializers. Be sure to be a good role model for your child – talk to other parents at the park, invite friends (with or without children) over for lunch, tell your children about the fun things you like to do with your friends. This technique is known as modeling. Your child’s most influential role model is their same-sex parent. Let them observe you making friends with others and they will begin to recognize the techniques and consequences of this behaviour and begin to try the techniques themselves.
4. Engage in Your Child’s Life Outside the Home
Most parents find that the way their child behaves at home can be completely different to the way they behave at school or day care. Engage the other adults whom your child sees on a regular basis – teachers, care givers, sports coaches, and parents of other children. These people are the best resource you have for monitoring and changing your child’s behaviour outside the home.
5. Give Your Child Space to Grow
It can be tempting as a parent to be overly involved in the activities of our child. While it is important to be involved it is equally important to give your child space to try out some of their new socialization skills. Children are going to fall down, they are going to make mistakes. Children need to learn what this is like, so they can adapt when it happens and grow as people. If you are always hovering over your child, you rob them of a sense of self-mastery, a sense of accomplishment and competency.
While activities such as piano or language lessons are important in building skills and competency, enrolling your child in a group activity will allow them to meet other children their age and practice socializing in a low-risk setting. Select diverse activities (not too many at once) and allow your child to find what they enjoy doing while making friends. Examples of group activities include: soccer, swimming, baseball, dance, martial arts, reading groups, cub scouts/ girl guides, art or pottery classes, and more.
7. Host Playdates
Most people feel more confident in familiar settings. If you want to support your child in building friendships be prepared to invite friends over. Keep playdates small – start with just one child – and short – one to two hours is plenty for most children. Have suggestions for fun activities and be prepared to get the ball rolling, but then step back and watch your child play with their friend. At the end of the playdate have a conversation with your child about they fun things he did with his friend, encouraging children to share their feelings with you will make it easier for them to share their feelings with others. If possible, try to arrange regular playdates with the same children – and when they are ready they will want to go have a playdate at their friend’s house as well.
Get down to your child’s level and play with them like a friend. Not only will this be fun for both you and your child, but you will learn a great deal about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Studies have suggested that parents of the most socially successful children laugh and smile often, avoid criticizing their child during play time, are responsive to their child’s ideas and aren’t too directive.
9. Don’t Push
As much as we want our children to be happy and well liked by their peers, pushing them into making friends can easily backfire. Some children need more time and need to take more gradual steps towards building friendships. Support your children, but don’t push them. Help them develop social skills such as empathy, problem-solving, co-operation, sharing, negotiation and communication skills.
10. Be Patient!
No skill is learned overnight! Be patient with this process and know that once your child learns positive social skills they will be able to use them for the rest of their lifetime.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.