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Nurturing Early Social Skills

Dear Debi,
My 16-month-old is very active for her age. Can you give me some pointers about how to teach her appropriate social skills?
Yvonne Flores
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Arrange short playtimes with other young children
  • Make sure there are plenty of things to do & lots of play materials
  • Narrate what other children may be feeling
  • Model the kinds of social skills you want your child to develop
  • It takes both time & maturity for children to be able to make friends
Expert Advice
Ana Gallegos
Ana Gallegos
Childcare Center Director
Adults can introduce babies to social skills by holding the baby while other children are near by. You want the child to become comfortable in the environment and adults can become facilitators in child's play. An adult can also facilitate social skills by modeling, gesturing and speaking to the children as they become comfortable with each other. The important thing is to be present and allow babies to explore.

Babies learn a lot through socialization. I like to call them the 4 C's. Children gain confidence, cooperation, curiosity and communication.

There are several things you, as a parent or provider, can do to help a child develop his or her social skills. Keep your toddler's play dates short and be available to facilitate interactions when necessary.

Set up an interesting play environment. This will make it more likely that the quality of children's play - and their behavior - will be better. For toddlers and two-year-olds, consider duplicates of favorite toys.

Narrate what other children/people may be feeling. For instance, say, "I think Mary feels . . . because . . . " to help your child "decode" others' body language. Preschoolers and older children who make friends easily and are well liked are able to read other children's non-verbal cues.

Encourage the expression of feelings; respect and validate them. Forming good relationships depends on the ability to show feelings appropriately and to recognize the feelings of others. Teach children acceptable ways to vent anger, like drawing an angry picture, running in the yard, or punching a pillow. Likewise, label your own feelings by saying, "I am happy because you helped me clean up," or, "I am sad my friend left." It is important they know that you have feelings too, but that you can express them this way.

Offer guidance as needed to facilitate play. It's quite natural for some children to watch for a while before they feel comfortable. Some children will also need more support than others. So don't push and never force children to play together. Developmentally, it's more likely that toddlers and two-year-olds will play next to each other, rather than with each other. This parallel play is a stage in the progression of social play from solitary play to group play. But this tendency is somewhat influenced by the child's temperament, social experiences, level of comfort in a situation, etc.
Child Care Provider Comments
Aimee Gutierrez
Aimee Gutierrez
Mother of three
My children have learned many things from interacting with other kids. They've learned how to take turns, how to share, and how to stand their ground and not be a push-over. When I am at the playground and I see a kid push my daughter, Ava, I tell her she needs to learn to stand up for herself. I want her to be confident and not be pushed around.
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
Young kids don't necessarily understand the concept of sharing. I like to give the children in my care the words to use in these situations, like, "I am using that book right now." It avoids conflict. I emphasize saying, "I am using this now, but when I am done, you can use it." I don't use the word "sharing" because it causes fights, like, "He is not sharing with me." When you take away the word "sharing" then it's not expected.
Bernice Gaston
Bernice Gaston
Grandmother of a 14-month-old
I try to nurture social skills in my grandchild. I say "hi" to him in the morning. I kiss him. When I am around people, he watches me. He sees how I interact with other people.

Telephone Play Featured Activity:
Telephone Play
Social Skills Featured Video:
Social Skills
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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