Most parents of preschoolers know that developing good social skills starts early. A healthy sense of trust is established in infants when their basic needs are met, and they learn that the world is a generally good place. But when children enter preschool, they're suddenly in an environment where they have to get along with others, learning to share and take turns with their peers. This can be a challenge for some. If your little one is struggling with these concepts, here are some simple things that you can do at home to foster the development of healthy social skills in your child.
Teach your child "perspective taking." Toddlers should begin learning that they are separate from others before reaching one year of age, and with this development comes the belief that any toy they want automatically belongs to them and them alone. It's not uncommon to hear a child cry out, "No! That's my toy!" This is perfectly normal, and it's also an important phase for children to pass through without correction. But you need to teach them that other people have feelings too. The process of perspective taking shows your child that other children would like to have a chance to play with their toy. A simple yet effective method of teaching this valuable skill is to have a dialogue with your preschooler when you hear another child crying. Let your child know that they are crying because they are upset, or scared, or hurt. This begins to pave the road to empathy, helping them to understand that separate people have separate emotions, thoughts, and desires, ultimately encouraging more appropriate social interactions in the present and future.
Role play. Get on the floor with your child and role play as if you were one of their friends at school. Be sure to model positive behavior, such as showering them with hugs and kisses when they willingly hand over their favorite truck or doll. That way, they will associate this behavior with good consequences. Get creative when role-playing by looking for any chance to share. This includes sharing the couch to watch TV. It's something that you can do together that your child will love, and they will ultimately learn to associate a positive feeling with sharing.
Be consistent with the preschool. If your child's preschool has a time limit on toy use, be sure to implement that same rule as you role play at home. For example, tell your child, "You get the truck for five minutes, then we'll swap, and you get to play with the blocks."
Reward them for good behavior. Immediately reward your child for sharing or taking turns nicely with a special treat like "cuddling time" or an extra five minutes with a favorite toy.
Talk about feelings. If your child seems reluctant to share, ask them how it makes them feel. Questions like "Are you afraid you won't get your toy back?" or "Are you scared I will break your toy?" encourages them to put a name to their feelings. This gives them tools to communicate clearly as they get older. And when you know why they're clinging to that favorite item, you can assure them that they will get their toy back after a certain length of time.
Don't always intervene. Suppose your child has a friend over for a play date or a sibling around the house. A squabble breaks out, and, once again, they're both grabbing for the same thing. Your first instinct may be to jump in and referee, but this isn't always the best approach. Take a step back and observe how they resolve the issue. If they continue to fight, or if one starts to go into a full-blown meltdown, ask both of them what they think a good solution would be. This encourages healthy interactions, teaches fairness, and helps them learn valuable problem solving skills with their peers at preschool.
Encourage them to ask, not take. Grabbing toys from classmates without asking is a common issue among preschoolers. But, as you know, it's a behavior that should be discouraged. If your child is struggling with this, you can help by modeling the right behavior at home. If your little one has something that he shouldn't, or when play time is over, hold out your hand and say, "May I have that back, please?" Never snatch a toy out of their grasp unless it's an emergency.
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