Developing social skills

Forget Paris Hilton and the Kardashians – children are the ultimate socialites. From birth, babies spend almost every waking minute developing their first relationships with their parents and close family members. Through these relationships, young children learn that they can trust people to care for them, get their needs met and enjoy life with others.

Think about the relationship your child has with you as being the foundation on which they’ll build all their subsequent relationships. When this is strong, and when kids get the comfort and reassurance they need from you, they feel confident exploring the world from a stable, secure base.

What you can do to help

  • It might seem obvious, but make sure you spend plenty of quality time interacting with your child. Talk about what you’re doing, ask lots of questions, and make time to play together.
  • Support your child to learn skills such as sharing and helping others – helping to pack up their own toys for example.
  • Talk with your child about how other people use facial expressions and body language to show how they’re feeling – for example, when someone turns away when you’re playing with them, they might need a break.
  • Explain the links – and differences – between feelings and behaviour using everyday situations. For example, talking about why we don’t throw our toys when we’re feeling frustrated will help your child understand what acceptable behaviour looks like.
  • Help them to show interest in what others are doing, and give compliments to their playmates.
  • Praise your child for being friendly and caring about others.
  • Help children to use words to say what they need and feel, such as "I would like a turn with that"; or "Would you like to play in the play house with me?"

Developing empathy 

You can see the first signs of bonding in a very young baby as they gaze into your eyes, and relax when you hold or rock them gently.

From a young age a baby will also recognise you by seeing you and hearing your voice. They may show this by greeting you with delight, huge social smiles or by laughing out loud. They’ll soon recognise their own name and love to play ‘turn-taking’ games with you. This is the start of the give and take of relationships.

Taking turns

Being able to take turns with others is key for children’s social development. There are many ways adults can encourage children to take turns – some examples include:

  • Presenting give and take interactions with babies – when the baby smiles, smile back; when they make a sound, make the sound back and then wait for the baby to take a turn. This is the start of social interaction – I talk, and then I wait and listen for you to talk, and so on.
  • Older babies love to play peek-a-boo or hiding games – once they get the hang of it, give them a turn to hide.
  • Rolling a ball backwards and forwards between you.
  • Blowing kisses to each other, giving your baby time to take a turn.
  • When you’re playing a game with your baby, leave a space for them to signal that they want to go on playing, then respond.
  • Take turns feeding each other.
  • Take turns putting blocks on a tower.
  • Join in your toddler’s game. Make some of the car or rocket noises, then wait and see if they want to take a turn.
  • Sing songs and leave a space for the toddler to put in some words or actions.
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