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Connecting with Your Preschooler: Developing Social Skills


preschool age children playing



Developing your preschooler’s social skills will help her to make friends and have meaningful relationships with family, friends and classmates.

Developing your child’s social skills

Having good relationships with a range of people is very important for a person’s mental health. To develop these relationships, children must learn social skills, such as:

  • communication skills – using the right words for the situation, smiling and facial expressions, using eye contact and listening
  • entry skills – knowing how to join a group
  • being part of a group – sharing, taking turns, following rules, cooperating, managing conflict, helping others
  • being a friend – supporting friends, being kind, helpful and affectionate, being willing to follow requests and participate in group decision-making.
  • Teach your child about emotions – emotional competence is a key to developing strong social skills.

How children learn social skills

Parents tend to have the most influence on how a child’s social skills develop, but children also learn from other sources including family, friends, day care and preschool.

Unfortunately, there’s no recipe for teaching social skills – you have to take into account individual differences such as age, background and personality. What works for one child might not work for another. It’s often a case of trial and error, watching how different things work with your child.

Did you know? Developing social skills is like any other skill. Children need to practise them, especially since this combination of skills can be quite complex. Sometimes children have no trouble learning some skills and yet struggle with others. Practise helps children become socially competent – they will be able to make and keep friends and maintain satisfying relationships.

Ideas to help your child develop good social skills

  • Show children what good social skills look like. They learn by watching as well as participating. Your child is probably copying the way you behave when you’re around other people.
  • Encourage your child by saying things like "good try" or "well done". Having self-confidence will help him in social situations. Encourage preschoolers to be aware of the feelings of others, even if they can’t see the other person’s point of view. For example, "Johnny has been waiting for a turn for a while now. I think it’s his turn". It might take some time for your child to understand, but if you keep explaining, it will help her to understand eventually.
  • Be consistent when teaching social skills. Keep telling your child things like, "Everyone gets a turn" and "He is frustrated, you know how that feels". As your child becomes older, your explanations can get more complicated – but the messages should stay the same.
  • Recognise that peer relationships become more important and complicated as your child grows older.
  • Talk with your child about his feelings, and your own. Talk about situations that make us feel bad, and those that make us feel good.
  • Give your child lots of opportunities for imaginary play, such as; dress-up, telephone play, playing shop, acting out stories and rhymes, playing with other children, constructing things with bricks, cut-outs and dough, and helping around the house with simple chores.

Building your child’s problem-solving skills

Problem-solving skills are important for decision-making and sorting out conflicts. Through conflict, children learn that people experience different thoughts and feelings. Helping your child develop a good sense of right and wrong and about how their behaviour affects other people will also lead to good problem-solving skills.

Tips for helping your child develop good problem-solving skills

  • If your child is arguing with other children, encourage her to try and work out a solution to the problem.
  • Avoid blaming if children are fighting. Once everyone is calm enough to talk sensibly, encourage children to think of different ways of solving the problem and finding agreement on a solution that everyone can live with (even if it isn’t the best!).
  • See that the solution is followed through, announce when the problem is sorted out, and congratulate everyone on participating in such a grown-up fashion.

More information on connecting with your preschooler:

© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.

Resources & Links:

HealthLink BC: Preschoolers – Building Social Skills  
HealthLink BC: Helping Your Child Build Inner Strength 


Last Updated: November 30, 2014