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4 Easy and Effective Ways to Teach Social Skills to Children

children talking at schoolroom table

Benefits of Teaching Social Skills to Children

It is widely understood that social skills learning increases a child’s positive behavior and reduces negative behavior. It effectively prevents a variety of problems such as substance abuse, violence, truancy, and bullying. Alternatively, social skills learning fosters emotional health, academic success, health, and overall well-being.

Researchers from Penn State and Duke University found that children who were better at sharing, listening, cooperating, and following the rules at age five were more likely to go to college. They also were more likely to be employed full-time by age 25.

And according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, a child’s social and emotional skills in kindergarten might be the biggest predictor of success in adulthood.

4 Critical Social Skills to Teach Children

1. Sharing

Consenting to share a toy or a snack can be essential in helping children make friendships and keep them. According to a study published in Psychological Science, children as young as age two may show a desire to share with others—but usually only when their resources are abundant.

At the same time, kids between the ages of three and six are often reluctant to share if sharing will require some kind of sacrifice. Children this age might reject sharing half of their cookies if that will mean fewer cookies for them. However, those same children might quickly share a toy that no longer holds their interest.

By the time children reach the age of seven or eight, they are more aware of fairness and thus more willing to share. Kids who have a good feeling about themselves are often more likely to share. And sharing helps them feel good about themselves. Teaching children to share may be a way to help boost their self-esteem.

2. Cooperating

Cooperating means working together towards a common goal. Kids who are cooperative are respectful of others when requests are made of them. They are amenable to contributing, participating, and helping out. Good cooperation skills are a prerequisite for functioning successfully within a community.

By about age three and a half, kids have the capacity to work with their peers on a shared goal. This cooperation may become manifest in anything from building a toy tower together to playing together in a game that requires everyone’s participation. As the child grows, cooperating becomes more sophisticated and impactful.

3. Listening

Listening doesn’t just mean to remain quiet. Rather, it means to absorb what another person is saying. Listening is essential to healthy communication and being successful. After all, the key to learning in school depends on the child’s capacity to listen and absorb what the teacher is saying.

A critical application of listening is the ability to follow directions. Kids who have difficulty following directions will likely suffer a variety of consequences. This could be anything from being required to redo homework assignments to getting in trouble for misbehavior.

At the same time, it is vital to remember that mistakes are normal. It’s only natural for children to become distracted, act impulsively, or forget what they are supposed to do. The healthiest approach is to view each mistake as another opportunity to help children sharpen their listening skills.

4. Respecting Personal Space

Some children are reluctant talkers. Others will unabashedly crawl into the lap of a mere acquaintance without any awareness of the discomfort that they are causing the other individual. It’s crucial to instruct children how to respect another’s personal space. For these children, you need to give concrete instructions to them to respect other people’s personal space.

4 Ways to Teach Social Skills in Your Classroom

1. Assign Jobs in the Classroom

Assigning classroom jobs to students provides the opportunity to grow in tangible ways through accepting responsibility, becoming a team player, and assuming leadership. Handing out papers or being a line-leader accentuates a student’s strengths and, consequently, builds confidence. This list of classroom jobs has some great ideas!

2. Role-Play Social Encounters

An effective method for children to practice their social skills is through role-playing. Teachers can craft structured scenarios in which the students can act out a particular role and receive immediate feedback. For help on setting up effective role-playing, see this resource from Learn Alberta.

3. Group Activities Large and Small

Group activities provide children the opportunity to develop teamwork, goal-setting, and responsibility. Group work can also help quieter, more introverted students connect with others, and it reinforces respectful behavior. For some classic suggestions on how to establish effective groups, see Instructional Grouping in the Classroom.

4. Big Buddies

The Big Buddy system is a great way for children to learn to communicate with and respect different age groups. Usually, classroom teachers of different ages meet ahead of time to create pairings of students and arrange a structured activity. Here is an article that offers tips on how to start a reading buddy program.

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