People are social creatures. As infants one of the most important things we do is form attachments to others. Without social attachment children often fail to thrive. Then in early childhood years, children begin to seek out others to add to their circle of close relationships, they look for friends.
Social skills are important in all aspects of life. In fact, many highly successful people will include social skills first, or at least very high, on their list of qualities that contribute to success as adults. We, at Aldersgate Preschool, are intentionally looking for opportunities to “teach” positive social interaction. Often we can sneak in some teaching moments in the midst of our play. You can too.
From a very early age my daughter, Allie, and I have modeled to Anna, my grand-daughter, ways to give toy animals or people a voice, a story. I remember Anna’s huge smile the first time I had her baby doll clap and cheer for her as she accomplished a new skill. Anna loved the idea that her baby was watching and cheering for her. She then spent quite a bit of time learning how to help her baby clap. With this new skill in place Anna began to recognize moments that might cause feelings of excitement for her baby. She would happily help her baby clap for others then. Anna was learning an important social skill, empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
This weekend Anna asked, “Play with Anna, Grammy, please?” As you can imagine we were soon playing together. She loves the old Fisher Price people sets that I have from our own children’s early years. This day we were playing with the Western Town but really it could have been any of them. It’s the people that bring the sets to life. To personalize them, we have given some people names of family members based on their similar physical traits.
As we played, my person “walked” to my daughter’s person and said, “Hi, can I play with you please?” Allie had her person turn toward mine and she replied, “Sure, you can play. What should we play?” There was a little sticky ball laying by our pieces so I said, “Hey, let’s kick the ball.” “Okay” she replied and we made our people push the ball toward each other. Anna giggled and then quickly brought her little person over to play. We helped her with the words to ask to join our play and of course we welcomed her person into the game. Through this seemingly simple activities we introduced many different skills and gave Anna an opportunity to practice them. Anna now has this experience to refer to when trying to play with others at story hour, church and other social situations.
The National School Association of Psychologists states the following: Good social skills are critical to successful functioning in life. These skills enable us to know what to say, how to make good choices, and how to behave in diverse situations. The extent to which children and adolescents possess good social skills can influence their academic performance, behavior, social and family relationships, and involvement in extracurricular activities.
So I say, take some time to play! Your child will cherish the moment and in the midst of the play you can guide and model positive social skills, give labels to different feelings, practice skills that may be difficult for your child and so much more.