Before your child begins school you may want to provide him with opportunities to spend time with other children his age. This is the best way to help him develop the social skills he will need to make friends and get along with his classmates in kindergarten. Children learn different things from each other than they do from adults. Think back to your childhood friendships. There is nothing like sharing a silly joke with your friends.
Keep in mind that friendships are like plants. They take time to grow and require special care and effort to blossom. When helping your child make friends follow his lead and respect his comfort level. Pushing him to befriend a particular child or participate in activities he doesn’t enjoy may lead to disappointment and rejection. Taking things slowly and focusing on fun are more likely to lead to success in the long run.
Practicing Social Skills with Your Child
Before introducing your child to other children, it may be a good idea to practice his social skills at home. This way he will ‘know what to do’ when he meets other children.
As adults, we sometimes confuse social skills with manners. While knowing the ‘magic words’ is certainly helpful, saying ‘please’ does not guarantee a child will be included in play. As young children spend a lot of time playing with each other, this is a good place to start when developing your child’s social skills.
Whatever your child’s skill level, praise him for positive behaviour such as sharing and taking turns with others. If your child misbehaves by doing things such as grabbing or pushing to get toys, show him more appropriate behaviours. A fun way to teach social skills is to ‘act out’ social situations with your child using dolls or puppets.
Here are a few examples:
- Asking someone to play.
- What to do when you want to play with someone’s toy.
- What to do when someone takes your toy.
In the beginning, you should play all the ‘parts’ to show your child what he can do or say in certain situations. Maintain his interest by using characters from his favourite television shows. Be sure to speak in an animated voice and use words that your child can understand. Try to act out situations with both positive and negative responses. This will help your child understand that other children will not always be willing to share or play with him. Here is a sample situation you can act out using characters from the television show, “Sesame Street”.
Ernie: “Hi Oscar! Want to play ball?”
Oscar: “I don’t like ball.”
Ernie: “Hmmm….Oscar doesn’t want to play.
I’ll ask Big Bird. Hi Big Bird! Want to play ball?”
Big Bird: “OK Ernie. Roll me the ball!”
After you have ‘acted out’ a few social situations for your child, you can encourage him to join in. You may also want to view the on-line story “Play Time” with your child to show him how a communication book can be used during play.
Choosing Playmates and Activities
Like adults, some children find it easier to make friends and meet new people than others. Some people naturally prefer to spend time on their own while others are more out-going. When thinking of potential playmates for your child, consider his personality, age, and interests. A child of the same age with a similar personality and interests should be a good match.
If you are having difficulty thinking of children your child might enjoy spending time with, you might want to try:
- Visiting neighbours or extended family members with young children.
- Visiting a local park, Ontario Early Years Centre, library story hour, family resource centre, or childcare so he can see and be around other children.
- Meeting other parents whose children have special needs.
- Attending ‘parent-and-child’ swimming or music lessons together.
Make a note of children your child seems comfortable with and those he tends to stay away from. You may find that an older sibling or neighbourhood child will take your child ‘under her wing’ and include him in activities.
Once you have chosen a few playmates for your child you can begin to plan some activities for them to enjoy together. Introduce your child to one new playmate at a time. Inviting several children over at once may be overwhelming. Try to plan activities that suit your child’s personality and social skills. If your child is quiet and doesn’t talk much, inviting a friend over to watch a video may be a good idea. On the other hand, if your child is very active and energetic, an outdoor activity might be more enjoyable. For children who are most secure at home with a familiar caregiver in the room, planning activities such as baking that require adult supervision can be helpful.
Finally, if you find that your child becomes extremely anxious or upset when he is introduced to new people or is separated from familiar caregivers, you may want to contact a professional for some advice and support.
When your child is ready to begin school it is a good idea to meet with your child’s teacher and other adults that may be working with him in the classroom. You can discuss ways to develop your child’s social skills and help him make friends. Sharing information about your child’s skills and interests is important. He is more likely to use his social skills at school when he is doing something he is good at and enjoys. Sometimes children misbehave to avoid activities they dislike. You can also ask which activities and games are popular at recess and in the classroom. If possible, you can introduce your child to these games at home.
It is also helpful to provide information on things that may affect your child’s ability to get along with his classmates. For example, if he does not like to be touched a lot, he can be seated beside classmates that are able to keep their hands to themselves. If he is more comfortable playing with one child than a group he may be encouraged to ask one child to play rather than join in a group.
It may be a good idea for you or a family member to attend a field trip or school concert with your child. This will give you a chance to get to know the other parents and children in his class.