Your social skills are a trait that follows you around for the entirety of your life. If you have poor social skills, your everyday interactions are tainted by that. Your work is tainted by that, your love life is tainted by that, and even your family life might fall victim to it. Social skills develop naturally as you socialize, but that doesn’t mean the journey has to be painful.
In this guide, we’ll look at some of the best activities for building and boosting social skills. You might need a partner or a friend to help you through this, but if you keep up with activities like these often enough, you’ll see improvements in your social skills in no time.
Do keep in mind that many social skills activities are geared toward children. If you have a child who needs a bit of help with their social skills, these will be an excellent resource for them. However, if you’re an adult looking to improve their social skills, this list may feel a bit childish. Don’t take it personally – with a bit of tweaking, the activities on this list are suitable for even adults.
Social Skills Activities
Often, children and adults with impaired social skills can have trouble looking at other people in the eyes. It’s essential to know how to look others in the eyes to make them feel wanted, included and paid attention to during a conversation or interaction.
Unfortunately, looking at others directly in the eyes can feel scary and confrontational, especially to children. However, to pick up on other social cues correctly, you need to be able to do this. The best way to get over your aversion to looking others in the eyes is just to do it.
A great way to turn this into a game is to have a staring contest. If you have a friend you know well, it won’t be as hard to have a staring competition with them, though it’s still good practice. If you can, choose someone who you or your child are not used to socializing with, such as an acquaintance, family member, or friendly stranger.
A staring contest is an excellent opportunity for someone to learn how to look people in the eyes under the pretense of a game. While it still might be too much for some shyer children, it should tempt most into the act by turning it into a contest. In the same way, with adults, the humorous nature of the activity is a great way to lighten the atmosphere and make the act less debilitating.
Alternatively, if you or a child has trouble with the staring contest, consider putting a sticker on the opposite person’s forehead for them to focus on. This way, they aren’t directly looking into someone’s eyes, but they’re making a mock of the behavior and getting used to it at the same time.
Simon Says is a classic attention game for people of all ages. The beautiful thing about Simon Says is that everyone already knows how to play it, so playing with a group of friends is incredibly easy. It’s a great game to bring out at a party or get-together if you have understanding friends.
As an attention game, Simon Says has several benefits. Some of these are:
- Focusing attention on one thing
- Self-regulating one’s behavior
- Following directions
- Not feeling embarrassed in front of others
Simon Says is a great group activity. Since it’s a group activity, anyone feeling socially uncomfortable can blend in with the crowd (until they’re called out by Simon, of course). This both gives them a sense of security and a sense of excitement about being caught. It can even help teach them to take losses gracefully when they do make a mistake.
Red Light, Green Light
Red Light, Green Light is another classic game that almost everyone knows how to play. In this game, the “stoplight” yells out “red light” and “green light” whenever they desire. When “red light” is called, everyone must stop what they’re doing and freeze. When “green light” is called, everyone can run again!
Red Light, Green Light is a very basic game overall. Players must cross a finish line, and they cannot move during a red light. If they do, they must return to the starting line. However, you can add all sorts of special rules and bonuses to this game to make it more interesting, too – especially for adults!
One simple addition for the game of Red Light, Green Light is to add in players that are “it.” In this case, both the “it” players and the regular players must stop when “red light” is called, and players must return to the starting line when they’re tagged by the “it” players, too.
Red Light, Green Light is mostly for physical entertainment, of course, but it helps teach listening skills, self-control, and the ability to focus on specific stimuli. If the players aren’t listening intently for the “green light” signal, they could quickly end up tagged “out” or running on a “red light” by accident!
Would You Rather
Would You Rather is an entertaining game that got its start as a party game, but has its place as a social-skill-building-game and a game for children, as well. Among adults and children alike, the game has a high potential for hilarity and fantastical choices, and it’s great for entertainment, too!
The Would You Rather game usually goes something like this:
- Would you rather be able to fly or have super strength?
- Would you rather sneeze every time you laughed or laugh every time you sneezed?
- Would you rather be raised by wolves or be raised by tigers?
Of course, among adults, and because of its origins as a party game, Would You Rather can sometimes take on a more suggestive tone. We won’t get into those examples here, but it does have the potential to happen. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, but socially uncomfortable adults might find the game less enjoyable if it does.
The beauty of the Would You Rather game is that it’s informal, it can be played with any number of players, and it has no space requirements. Anyone anywhere can play the game. Additionally, on top of improving social skills (particularly decision-making), it’s a great way to get to know the people around you. Talk about an ice breaker!
Social Skills Roulette
Social Skills Roulette is a bit of a different social skills game for children to practice. This game might not be the right type of game for adults; however, as it’s meant to be more educational than strictly entertainment-based.
To play Social Skills Roulette, the first thing you would do is write down an assortment of social skills down on small slips of paper. Place these slips of paper inside of a hat or a bag, then pass them around to all of the children in the room. Each child should pull a sheet of paper out of the hat, then pass the bag on.
The object of the game is to get each child to think about the social skill on their piece of paper. A child might pull any of the following from the hat:
- Eye contact
Once every student has a piece of paper, you should go around the room asking each student to talk about what they got. Make sure they answer why that social skill is important, what it means, and an example of it in real life.
For example, if a student pulls “eye contact” from the hat (a topic which we talked about earlier), they might say something like, “Eye contact is when I meet the eyes of another person when I talk to and interact with them. It means that I’m paying attention to the other person, and it’s important because people might think I’m disrespectful or mean if I won’t look at them.”
Each child sitting in the circle should proceed with the game in the same way. Once you’ve gone around the entire loop, the game is over.
Reading faces is another skill that can be tough for children with underdeveloped social skills. Emotional Charades is a great way to overcome this skill. Emotional charades is exactly what it sounds like; each child (or adult) gets a prompt, and then must act out the emotion conveyed in the prompt.
If you’re playing this game with adults, you can make the prompts a bit more complicated to up the fun of the game. For example, whereas a child might get “happiness” as a prompt, you could change that to “happy about getting a new puppy” for an adult. The adult would have to act out the facial emotion as well as the appearance of playing with a puppy.
For children, this is an excellent way for them to learn about how their emotions come across to others, and it’s great for the other children to learn how to identify emotions in other children.
If your children are too embarrassed to act out emotions, though, you can always turn the game into “Emotional Pictionary” instead. (If you’re going to play Emotional Pictionary, we do recommend adding a rule that the children can’t simply draw a face with the expression on it; they must use body language as well.)
Be careful with the emotions that you choose for this game, though. Use words that are appropriate for children and feelings that they can act out with minimal difficulty. For example, choosing a word like “flummoxed” would not be suitable for the children. It might be fun for an adult version of the game, though!
Some emotion words that would be appropriate for children’s emotional charades would be:
Playing make-believe is something that children excel at. Just take a look at all of the fantasy movies that Disney and other companies have released for children! While adults can enjoy an animated film as much as the next person, it’s not quite as comfortable for adults to play a game of make-believe together. Most adults would call this “role-playing” instead.
Both role-playing and make-believe are excellent ways for adults and children to test their social skills. Both activities test people’s reactions in strange situations. Make-believe for children is a unique way to teach children emotional regulation. In a peculiar make-believe world, children are exposed to new and exciting events that might make them hyper or jumpy.
However, if children are given enough time to play make-believe together, they eventually get used to these emotional ups and downs. On the other hand, adults usually regulate their emotions much better, but they learn a great deal about teamwork and socialization by working with others.
Make-believe and role-playing are excellent activities because they’re essentially blank slates. You can set up the make-believe situations and role-playing scenarios to help the players solve specific problems or build individual skills.
There’s one excellent example of both make-believe and role-playing that’s hugely trendy in popular culture today. This is called Dungeons and Dragons! In this game, one player is selected as the Dungeon Master (or DM) and directs other players, who all create their own fantasy personas, through an imaginary scenario.
Dungeons and Dragons is a fun activity that’s great for building friendships with others, building logic and critical thinking skills, and promoting good interpersonal teamwork.
Tower building games are incredibly popular ways to build teamwork, boost critical thinking, and help people understand each other in small groups. Tower building can take on many forms, but usually, the participants are given several different materials to use to build their tower. Some examples of materials include:
- Paper clips
- Uncooked spaghetti pasta
The best way to run this game is to give players a time limit to build their tower in. If you’re working with young children, you might give them an entire play period to work with if they’re young enough. If they’re old enough to understand what competition is, you can pit them against each other to see who can build the tallest tower in the time allotted.
The best part of the tower building game is that it helps to foster ambition in children (and adults!) while shifting the focus from one person to a team. That way, if the team wins, the win is on the shoulders of teamwork, but if the team loses, it doesn’t feel as devastating as a personal loss.
This game is incredibly flexible, as well. For example, you can add different restrictions to the game, such as using a certain number of pieces of one kind of material. Alternatively, you can make them balance something on top of the tower to turn up the heat even more!
Instead of having them build a tower, you can request that they create other things, too. Or, you can ask that they make a tower with certain features, such as a drawbridge, a spire, or a window. The sky truly is the limit for this activity!
We already went over the benefits of emotional charades in this guide. However, did you know emotional bingo can have much the same effect? In emotional bingo, instead of having the children act out the emotions, the person hosting the bingo match should do so. Then, the children need to play their bingo board based on whether they have the feeling there or not.
Emotional bingo has many of the same benefits of emotional charades but in a different format. Children must pay close attention to the bingo announcer, as the announcer will move onto the next space if they aren’t listening. This helps to promote listening and concentration skills, as well as the ambition to win!
The beautiful thing about emotional bingo is that shy or nervous children don’t have to worry about acting out the emotions themselves. However, they still get the benefit of recognizing the feelings on the teacher’s face as they play the game.
Bingo is a great party game, and it’s something that you can adapt for adults, too. While they might not like emotional bingo as much, there are many iterations of party bingo that adults will enjoy. Even regular bingo promotes listening skills, concentration, camaraderie, and friendly competition between players.
Checker Stack is a game designed for children who might have difficulty carrying on a conversation with others. In this game, each person is meant to take turns contributing something to the discussion. Each time they do, they add a checker to the “stack” between them. While this game works best with only two people, you can make it work with three or more, too.
One of the foremost benefits of this game is that there is no traditional winner and loser. As long as both colors in the stack are relatively even, the team has won! If one color is not as prevalent in the stack as the other, the owner of that color may need to work on contributing more to the conversation in the future.
While this might not seem like an activity meant for adults, it can be surprisingly insightful. Sometimes it can be hard to tell when lulls in a conversation are our fault, the other person’s fault, or just a natural pause. The checker stack can’t eliminate natural quiet in the discussion, but it does help you keep track of whether or not one person is dragging the conversation down.
There are some drawbacks to this activity, though. Because some people are more confident and talkative than others, they might naturally take up more of the stack. A naturally introverted, quiet person might not get as many chances to contribute to the stack, or they might not see the need to interject in a place where an extrovert would.
The players of the stacking game should be reminded that having an even stack isn’t always the goal. Some people interject naturally more than others, and the heap might not always be perfectly even. Instead, the purpose of the stack is to remind both parties to be courteous of the other. Introverts are reminded to speak out more, while extroverts are reminded to hold back a bit.
Mad Libs, or fill-in-the-blank interactive stories, are great ways for children to develop language awareness, social skills, and just plain have fun! Mad libs have the potential to be equally ridiculous and funny, and they’re good fun for both kids and adults alike. Do keep in mind, though, that adults might have more fun with adult mad libs rather than those intended for kids.
Mad libs are incredible for children because they help teach them to develop a sense of situational humor. When a child gets a chance to contribute an answer to the Mad Libs while in a group, they will be on their toes from then on to see if their contribution elicits a joyful response from their peers.
It takes time for children to develop an appropriate sense of humor, and even longer for children who do not have a natural knack for social situations. The mad libs exercise is an excellent opportunity for them to grow their sense of humor through trial and error. They will have the chance to learn from the successful contributions of their peers, too.
Mad libs work best when used in a group environment. You can have students each fill out an entire mad lib on their own, but the end result is more humorous if the whole group all contributes to one puzzle.
Adult mad libs are a great party puzzle, too! They’re not appropriate for young children, of course, but they’re great for a night of fun with friends. Adult mad libs have much the same benefits of children’s mad libs, but on a lesser scale, since most people have formed their own sense of humor by the time they reach adulthood.
Apples to Apples
Apples to Apples is a funny language game that’s a bit similar to Mad Libs, but much shorter and more fun! The Apples to Apples game has been around for a long time, and while the original Apples to Apples is meant for adults and teens, Apples to Apples Jr. also exists for young children.
Apples to Apples works by taking an adjective from the central pile for every player in the game to see. Then, each active player puts down a noun to go with the adjective. The end result should be funny! One player each round is the “judge” who chooses the best combination, and the judge should frequently change to keep the game fair.
Like Mad Libs, Apples to Apples is a great game to help children and adults alike develop their senses of humor. It’s a great bonding activity between friends, and even if a player feels like they can’t keep up with the other members of the group, the game is an excellent learning opportunity, since they will have the first-hand opportunity to see what others find funny.
While there are now many popular spin-offs of Apples to Apples, the most popular of them is called Cards Against Humanity. CAH is an irreverent game that uses sentences and phrases instead of nouns and adjectives, and it’s only suited for adults to play. However, it makes an excellent party game, and it builds social skills in the same way that Apples to Apples does.
Cooperative and Competitive Board Games
While Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity aren’t technically board games, they’re excellent examples of how both cooperative and competitive board games can build social skills and foster friendships (and friendly rivalries) between individuals.
There aren’t too many cooperative board games out there, but the ones that exist are definitely enjoyable. Pandemic is an excellent example of a famous cooperative board game, but it’s also quite complicated. Unfortunately, cooperative board games do tend to be on the complicated side (at least when they’re meant for adults).
However, competitive board games, on the other hand, are often appropriate for both adults and children. Some examples you’ll know the names of include:
Competitive board games have captured the hearts of many generations. While competitive and cooperative board games work to build very different social skills, they’re still both beneficial.
Competitive board games like Monopoly that require talking with your competition stand out above the rest. Monopoly is an incredibly deep strategy game that’s built around acquiring property and earning the most money. However, you can trade with other players, buy properties from them, and much more, too.
Cooperative board games, on the other hand, always require some degree of communication to be a compelling game. They wouldn’t work otherwise. However, they don’t have the same draw that many competitive board games do.
In the end, it’s probably best to be exposed to both games. Since competitive and cooperative games both flex different social muscles, playing only one would leave the other lagging behind, after all.