Sure, the actual educational lessons kids learn are important, but as a parent, your number one goal is to ensure that your kids have social skills and are happy when they leave you each morning and head to school. You want to make sure they are making friends, they are nice to other students, they are kind, they are respectful, and they well-cared for. And to be totally honest, it’s really hard to make sure all that happens when you aren’t there to monitor and support them. Add this to the long list of parenting struggles as your kids get older and more independent. Sigh.
Encouraging healthy social skills begins at a young age, long before you have to stress about cliques and bullying. And just as relationships are an important part of your life as an adult, they are crucial to your kids as well. As PBS reports, Diane Levin, Ph.D., author of Remote Control Childhood, explains, “friendships help children gradually learn to be independent, contributing members of a community and it’s just as important as their academic growth. However, it’s a slow process. There are many social skills to learn, which advance with age and experience, trial and error, and experiencing the satisfaction that comes from contributing to an ongoing friendship.” So how can you help set your kids up for social success? Here are 8 tips to help your kids be more sociable at school, and spoiler alert: it all starts with your actions as a parent.
1. Encourage Eye Contact at a Young Age Whether your kids are young or already attending school, make sure they make eye contact when they are interacting with others. And make sure that you make eye contact with them then you are speaking and playing. According to Scholastic, eye contact is important because “others know you are speaking and listening to them when you look at them.”
2. Teach Your Kids to Respect Others Without respect it’s really hard to build relationships that are fulfilling and fun for both people involved. As adults, we know this all too well. But you need to teach this lesson to your kids. Make sure they respect every one they meet and interact with at school, including their existing friends, teachers, other staff members and new students.
3. Take Time to Engage in Conversations When your kids come home from school don’t let them sit right down to tackle homework and don’t turn on the TV. Have an actual conversation about their day. Ask what they learned, what was fun, what they liked best, who they played with and what they’re excited to do tomorrow. You may never know what happens at school if you don’t ask, but if you actually engage in conversations as a family, your kids will not only open up to you, but they’ll also learn how to open up to others.
4. Practice at Home and Teach by Example You might think your kids learn mostly from their peers, but they actually learn from their parents and family above all other influences in their life. They will look to you for guidance, and they will mirror the behavior they see in your relationships as a parent, a spouse and a friend. Make sure that you practice what you preach and not only tell, but show your kids how to be inclusive, warm, caring, respectful and social. According to an article in the International Journal of Behavioral Development, “the kids with the most developed preschool social skills are the ones who experience more positive emotions at home.”
5. Set up Play Dates with Lots of Different Kids Don’t just tell your kids to make new friends, help them by getting to know the parents at the school and setting up play dates and group interactions whenever you can. Remember, if you’re shy about meeting new people then your kids will probably be too.
6. Talk to Your Kids About their Emotions You need to be there to listen to your kids if they ever feel rejected, shy or nervous about meeting new people. By knowing that you are there for them, they’ll be more likely to reach out to new friends.
7. Give them Confidence at Home Confidence is key in being socially adept and making new friends, and that self-assurance starts with your home life. Give your kids a boost by reminding them how special they are to you. You can focus on their strengths and what makes them unique rather than comparing them to other kids. The idea is to help enhance your child’s sense of self-worth so they are confident enough to approach a new friend and gain independence.
8. Be Silly with your Kids If you want your kids to be more social, you need to show them that it’s OK to be silly and to let go. And it all starts with you. Make a mess, run around, laugh a lot, experiment with new games, say something silly and let loose together. The more your kids learn the value of a really fun play session, the more they’ll be likely to seek out and initiate those situations with other kids.