Developing Social Skills

September 15th, 2010 by Dionna | 10 Comments
Posted in Children, Consensual Living, Eclectic Learning, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Toddlers

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Socialization: Inside and Outside the Home

One thing that I’ve (needlessly) worried about as a stay at home mom is Kieran’s socialization – both the opportunities he has to socialize and the skills he is acquiring. We are part of a learning cooperative, so he does get regular time with other kids (and has for the last two years), but it’s not the same as if we sent him to a daycare or preschool.

2010-08-17 01

Kieran recently snuggled up to me and said "I gonna keep you forever and ever, mama." The feeling is mutual kiddo.

Here’s the thing, though – his “socialization” outside the home up to this point simply wasn’t that important. Instead, his social skills have been impacted more by the relationships we’ve established inside the home.

Regardless of whether a child is in daycare, preschool, or is at home with a caregiver, a toddler’s best friend is almost always going to be his parent. Our focus during the infant and toddler years is more appropriately placed on establishing healthy relationships between parent and child. “When a toddler develops a strong, supportive and healthy relationship with her parent . . . , she learns to have trusting relationships with peers and other adults as she grows into a preschooler.”1

And as far as Kieran’s relationships with his immediate family (parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles), I have no worries – he has formed healthy, secure attachments with everyone who spends regular time with him.

But since he is more of a “preschooler” than a “toddler” in many ways, we’ve been quietly “working” on socialization skills these past few weeks. Of course the term “working” is a misnomer, because “working on social skills” is part and parcel of the life of any toddler or preschooler: we get plenty of opportunities to talk about sharing and toy ownership in the normal course of play.

As Kieran has shown an increased interest in playing with other kids (instead of just me) and in doing more than just parallel play, we’ve started talking about how nice it can be to play with other kids. Even though he has shown a desire to play with other kids, he’s been slightly reserved, perhaps due to a more introverted personality, perhaps due to his age and development. To help bolster his confidence, we’ve tried a few things at home.

Practicing Social Skills Through Play

1) Social Stories: Because one of Kieran’s favorite phrases is “tell me a story!,” I’ve been using story time to talk about playing with friends. Sometimes friends argue and Kieran helps me decide how they can work things out, sometimes Kieran wants to play with someone and he fills in the name of a friend in the story. It’s a good way to present scenarios and have him work through them without pressure.

2) Puppets: We have several hand puppets that Kieran likes to play with, and often we’ll play “games” together using the puppets. He tends to name his puppet Kieran and I get to be “Joshua.”

3) Pretend Play: We don’t need puppets to engage in pretend play as “friends.” Sometimes we just pretend to be different people and play whatever comes to mind.

I’m fairly certain our play has paid off. In the past few weeks, he has approached several different children (strangers) at the playground and asked them two questions: “What’s your name?” (If they respond, he tells them he is Kieran), and “Do you want to play?” We’ve actually “practiced” these two questions at home – usually with the puppets.

It has been an interesting journey watching Kieran grow from dependent baby to independent toddler to socializing preschooler. I am confident that his healthy, secure attachments to Tom and I will be the foundation for an ability to form wonderful friendships with others as he gets older.

When did your children start developing real social skills?

What did you do to help them?

10 Responses to:
"Developing Social Skills"

  1. MomAgain@40   karentoittoit

    For a working mom who has to put her child in day care, it is a bit of a relief to think that social development gets a boost there. But I agree that the primary relationships with mother, father, siblings and extended family goes a long way. The more they learn to trust in relationships at home, and that it will be a safe place, the more they will be able to venture outside of that.
    I try to help my child when she plays with other children with skills such as sharing, giving turns to each other, and greetings, and saying sorry when the other party has been hurt, even though it was an accident.

  2. Heather   xakana

    He certainly didn’t have any problem playing with Lilly! Heck, he’s one of the gentlest, consistently nicest playmates she has. It’s why I wish we had a regular playdate together.

  3. Boy, this could not have come at a better time. My 2 year old just started part time daycare and is having a hard time figuring out how to initiate play with the other children. We are having an issue with “aggressive hugging”. (don’t ask) Great ideas, I look forward to testing them out!

  4. Ruth Ann

    You forgot to mention that he approached that sweet little girl here in Topeka, at the lake…and asked her in SPANISH….”what is your name” (Of course that was after a quick refresher from Mama!) I could not believe it and Tia Tammy was SO impressed!!!

  5. Amber   AmberStrocel

    As an interesting note, when you have more than one child, there is a different kind of built-in socialization. For instance, my 5-year-old is much better at “playground justice” than I am, in that she will metaphorically take her ball and go home (ie – go in her room and close the door) if the 2-year-old isn’t playing nicely. And I think there’s some value in that – he’s learning that not everyone is willing to put up with him like his mother. We all fill different roles in his socialization process.

    As for my now 5-year-old, when she was around 3 she started learning how to interact with strangers on the playground. We practiced in similar ways – not with puppets, but through role-playing what to say. It’s the ice-breaking that is the hard part at this age, I find. Once she mastered that by age 4 or so, she could make instant friends, and that’s what she does now.

  6. Lisa   lisakleinweber

    Hi, you sound like a wonderful and sweet mom. :) My son is now seven. He’s quite the extrovert and he always went straight for the other kids. Trouble is, he’s also a natural leader, and at this age that translates into bossy.

    He came up with what’s your name and do you want to play with me? all on his own, but then mom had to be close by all the time to make sure the other kids weren’t stepped on and ordered about.

    so, I just try to stay close (still) and let him know when his behavior is over the top. Sometimes other kids like it because my son always has great ideas and he helps the quiet ones come out of their shell – but sometimes they feel a little railroaded too.

    it’s ok, we’re still working on it.

  7. Melodie   bfmom

    Great post Dionna,
    This is our biggest area of struggle. We know our daughter is strongly attached to us but she struggles with social skills so much it breaks my heart. When we role model interactions for her she doesn’t like the pretend aspect of what we are doing and scream or cries. I absolutely don’t know what to do except continue to encourage her just to be around other children. Even though she just turned 6 she is most comfortable in parallel play over anything else.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Big hugs Melodie. Is she more comfortable one on one with a friend than in groups? Would it help to have the same playmate regularly, then maybe try adding another playmate, etc? I wish I had better advice!!

  8. Marita   leechbabe

    Social skills are a big deal at our place with two children on the autism spectrum. One thing that interested me at my younger daughters play based social skills group, they teach the children to observe the others play, work out what is going on and simply join in. The therapist said she does not teach children to ask ‘can I play’ as she had observed so many kids get rebuffed in that situation which damaged their self esteem. This was for school age children 5-7yo do that is maybe why.

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