Whether your child was born a social butterfly or needs help warming up to new friends, kids can work on their social skills at all ages. “It's important to know the normal developmental skills appropriate for different age groups so you can determine where the help is needed,” says author of Social Rules for Kids, Susan Diamond, M.A.The following games, activities, and ideas can help build your child’s social skills at any age.
1. Eye contact. Making eye contact is a way we connect with others and show them we are interested in what they have to say. There are a number of exercises families can practice to improve their child’s eye contact. Having staring contests is a great way to engage and play as children practice eye contact; placing silly stickers on foreheads around the house and practicing “staring at the sticker” is another fun and silly way to improve.
2. Interpreting emotions. Young children in particular can have trouble reading the emotions of others. Help them practice identifying emotions by playing emotional charade. Take turns acting out an emotion while the rest of the family guesses; expand the game by brainstorming situations when you would feel that emotion. For example, “I was surprised because mom surprised me and came to have lunch with me at school!”
3. Attention span. If your child has trouble staying on topic, practice talking about the same subject for several sentences. One way to practice this skill is by picking a topic and coming up with two related and one unrelated sentence. For example, pick what happened at school as a topic then ask about what they had for lunch, how many kids are in their class, and what their favorite dessert is. Have your child pick out what was and what wasn’t related to the topic, and then let them have a turn.
4. Common interests. Many children struggle to connect with their peers. To encourage social interactions, plan outings or play dates around activities you know your child will enjoy. Bringing a friend to a favorite museum or inviting classmates over to play a favorite game can help build friendships around common interests.
5. Planned activities. Kids of all ages can benefit from planned activities to practice social skills. Play dates with a specific activity such as making individual pizzas or creating an art project are great structured activities. Joining sports teams or clubs or organizations can also allow children to bond over a shared experience!