Kids come in all shapes and sizes. The wide array of personalities that develop at a very young age can be overwhelming, entertaining, and straight-up confusing.
As parents, we can all be a little concerned at times regarding the rate at which our children develop – mainly how they are growing socially.
Is it normal for a child to spend so much time on their own? How much social interaction should they get? If they’re happy on their own, should we force social situations upon them?
All of these questions and more come from the deep concern in the hearts of many parents. Luckily, there are tons of studies and lots of research we can draw upon to get some clarity on the best parenting practice for our kids.
While every parent has specific concerns for their own children regarding their attitudes, actions, and tendencies, there are some necessary social skills that every child should be learning naturally.
These skills develop as children watch and learn from their parents, siblings, and other guardians or examples. They also happen when placed in a relationship-centered environment, such as playdates, daycare, and school.
We’ll talk more about the best ways to instill these skills a little later on, but for now, let’s discuss what some of these basic skills are and how they can be expressed.
Sharing is one of the leading basic social skills kids should and do practice. It’s an essential step in caring for others and fostering relationships. There are various steps in the process of learning to share, and it’s essential to recognize the stages and how to approach them.
At a young age – as early as two – children may show a tendency and a desire to share with those around them. However, they are most likely to do so when they have plenty to go around. For example, a two-year-old playing with stuffed animals is more likely to share one with his playmate if he has several, rather than if he has just one or two.
A couple of years down the line, you may see your young children become more selfish in terms of sharing. This is especially true when supply is low, and demand is high. At this age – which is anywhere from three to six – a child may be reluctant to share something he has very little of or a strong interest in.
As we know, little kids have short attention spans and get bored quickly, so once your child becomes uninterested with his toy, he may suddenly be quite okay with passing it along to another child.
Benefits of Sharing
Sharing is a super crucial social skill to teach to your children because it instills compromise and fairness at an early age. As we all know, sharing becomes much more than passing along a teddy bear later on in life. Sometimes sharing means giving up a little of something you have to make someone else happy in a relationship, with your family, and at work.
Learning about sharing also teaches kids that, in life, we don’t always get what we want. Practicing this early on helps them learn to cope with disappointments and negative feelings associated with sharing, giving things up, and negotiating fair terms.
A child who knows how to share also makes a good friend to others. While children who are mean-tempered and ungenerous may not be the most popular among those in the sandbox, someone who can share graciously and with kindness can form lasting bonds and solid friendships.
How to Help Your Kids Share
Teaching a young child to share can be a difficult task. Because of their young age and underdeveloped mind, children do not yet have the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They are focused on their own wants and needs – not those of another human being.
The only way they can learn to share and feel good about it is from you.
One thing you can do to help them along in this area is to make your child feel safe. Children can often be aggressive without meaning to or understanding what that means. When a child wants a toy, they will often grab without asking, yank, hit, or push. Step into these situations and lay down the law: no grabbing, no hitting; do so with a calm authority.
From there, you can help the children navigate the situation. Kids listen more than we think, and sometimes it’s helpful to reiterate what just happened so they can understand why it was wrong. Retell the situation in a slow, calm, and simple way. If you’re dealing with older kids (5 to 7 or older), you can ask for ideas on how to make the situation right.
Make sure you implicate feelings into the retelling, too. For example, child A picked up a toy because it made him feel happy. Child B grabbed the toy from child A because it looked like a lot of fun. Then talk about how child A might have felt when child B took the toy, and how child B might have felt sad that he didn’t have the toy.
Once there’s a clear understanding of the situation and the feelings involved, you can start to invoke some solutions. As we mentioned, if you can include the children in this portion, even better.
Lay down some ground rules, such as no hitting, no grabbing without asking, and no yelling. Enforce the words “please” and “thank you,” and reiterate that if there’s a problem, the children can seek you for further advice and guidance.
If sharing seems extra tricky in a situation, use timers to split up time fairly between toys. This will teach children that they cannot merely have something to themselves forever and sets some boundaries. When the timer rings, it’s time to give up the toy.
Setting rules like this will also help your child learn for next time, and maybe they will be the ones coming up with the sharing solutions instead of you.
Finally, rewarding good behavior is always the tried and true parenting method. Make sure you let your child know when they have done an excellent job sharing – they’ll appreciate your praise, and it will make them want to do it more. Likewise, try to point out when other kids share, too, letting your son or daughter witness sharing in action.
Listening is a skill that your child will need in order to succeed in all areas of their life. From their career to their relationships, listening is critical and can mean the difference between rousing success and defeating failure.
There’s a big difference between hearing someone and actively listening to them. At a young age, your child might think that listening just means to stay quiet while someone else is speaking. While that’s important, it’s also essential that they learn to really take in what’s being said so they can understand it and respond accordingly.
Listening is also about engagement. In today’s day and age, it’s easy to feel like the art of conversation has been lost amid all of the social media and technology. However, with a strong will and some good parenting, you can help your child learn to listen and converse in a productive and effective way.
Benefits of Listening
Learning how to listen presents your child with a more significant opportunity for future success. This skill will play out throughout their lifetime, so teaching it to them is a huge benefit.
For starters, learning how to listen plays a significant role in all-around social development. Your child will begin to interact with other kids on a consistent benefit as they age, whether it’s through school, sports, clubs, family, or church groups. In order for them to have strong friendships in their lifetime, they will need to hone in on their ability to grasp and retain information, as well as relay information back to someone.
In the midst of this process, it’s also possible that you will be able to determine whether or not your child has struggled with attention skills, hearing, or speaking. All of these issues are not entirely uncommon, and the earlier you can catch them, the earlier you can get them the help that they need.
A problem with listening can also be linked to difficulty following directions, learning new words, and other basic preschool concepts such as counting. Working on listening skills can bring these issues to light so that you can better assist your child.
Of course, learning to listen can also improve your child’s language skills, further developing his grammar, vocabulary, and reading abilities. Excellent listening skills can help a child learn and can also increase his ability to pick up on his own mistakes.
Good listening skills go hand-in-hand with many things in life. While learning these skills has many benefits early on, developing them at a young age can also be crucial for future success.
Being a good listener makes you a successful employee and leader, but it also can make you a fantastic partner, spouse, parent, and friend. Someone who listens is often viewed as someone who cares, and that is an essential social skill for everyone to have.
Another social skill that comes into play as your child gets older is learning how to cooperate with others. What this means is that your child will be working together with other kids, such as his peers in school, in order to achieve a common goal.
This may be a challenging space for some depending on their personality types. Some children are natural-born leaders with the innate drive to take over a project or a goal, while others tend to blend into the background and keep to themselves. Both of these personalities can make it tough to cooperate with others.
When children reach the age of three or four, regular cooperation starts to come into play. Before, they relied only upon you – the parent. Now, they will begin dealing with other children, babysitters, and teachers.
One of the main ways cooperation will insert itself into your child’s life is through play. At this age, your kids will likely start participating in organized games, sports, and activities, whether it be on a tee-ball team or in the classroom.
Benefits of Cooperation
As your child grows and develops, you and he both will recognize how vital learning cooperation is, and how instilling it early on can be a great benefit to his future. Not only does cooperation help your child figure out whether he is a leader, a follower, or an active collaborator, but it also helps him foster and maintain all kinds of relationships.
In the workplace, cooperation is essential. Regardless of the industry your child eventually ends up in; there’s a strong chance he will have to work alongside other professionals in an effective and productive way.
When you teach this skill early on, it only helps your son or daughter expand upon it as they age. Once they enter school, they will likely participate in group projects where their cooperation will contribute to a letter grade for themselves along with their classmates.
At an older age, cooperation may come into play during extracurricular activities like music programs, sports, and academic teams.
Learning to cooperate early in life could mean the difference between receiving recognition as a team player or a reputation as a lazy contributor.
How to Help Your Child Learn Cooperation
Cooperation can mean working together to complete a long-term project, but it can also be just effective back-and-forth interaction. That is where you will start as a parent or guardian of a young child: with the basics.
One important thing you can teach your kids to reach this kind of productive interaction is taking turns. This teaching is a very basic form of back-and-forth that they will carry with them as they develop and learn more.
You can use back-and-forth with tons of things, from primary block building and puzzles to conversations and games.
Try playing with building blocks with your child. Encourage them to build with you, but back and forth. You add a block, and then he adds a block, and so on. As they get older, you can make these exchanges more complex. Switch to puzzles, simple debates, and card games to help them understand cooperation as a back-and-forth process.
Beyond these basics, you can improve cooperation by being transparent for the reasons behind rules, limits, and requests. You can ask your child to clean up his toys, but he will benefit more if you explain to him why contributing helps the whole family.
For example, cooperating to clean up toys together gives mom more time to make a yummy meal for her kids.
When your kids get a little older, encourage them to contribute to the conversation by asking questions. Rather than just telling your toddler not to draw on the walls, ask him where might be a better place to draw. The two of you get to cooperate to find a solution, and your child will feel involved, included, and proud of himself for helping.
Reinforce positive feelings towards cooperation by remembering to offer suggestions rather than demands. Instead of telling your child to put on her shoes, ask her if she would like to put them on herself, or have your help. Both of these suggestions imply that she needs to wear shoes, but they let her be a part of the process and allow her to think critically about the situation.
Using suggestions rather than demands also says to her that later in life, she should use the same tactic to work cooperatively. As a boss, she might be more willing to collaborate with her employees rather than simply giving them orders.
If you’re a parent, you probably already know that most children do not have a great grasp on the idea of respecting personal space. You know this from the many times your child has burst into a room while you’re taking a bath, sitting on the toilet, or getting dressed in the morning.
You have also probably had many fingers up your nose, your hair pulled, and another face in direct contact with yours.
Of course, as adults, we all know, appreciate, and value personal space in our own lives. In the general public, we don’t stand extremely close to strangers or grab food out of people’s hands. However, very young children have yet to learn these social skills.
At a young age, it can be easy for you or even people outside of your family to simply dismiss the concept of personal space with a child. We all know it’s not weird for a child to walk into a room unannounced or climb into our laps – he’s just a child, and he doesn’t know better.
But when your child starts to get older and interacts with other kids and adults, respecting personal space will become necessary. While you may not mind your kid grabbing your nose, the boy next to him in daycare will certainly not be okay with it. And in later years, when your son or daughter is in school, the other students probably won’t be happy if they open the door while they’re in the bathroom.
Your child will learn about personal space naturally through his various environments, but it’s also something that you will likely have to discuss with him and gently remind him about.
Benefits of Learning Personal Space
In learning about respecting others’ personal space, your child is more likely to have more success in his interactions and relationships.
When people have personal space, they feel more comfortable. That’s the most prominent detail when it comes to personal space: comfort. In life, you will see that some people don’t like to be touched at all, while others are “huggers.” It’s all about individual comfort level and mutual respect.
Your child’s social engagements will go off a lot better when he’s not up close and personal with everyone he meets – even strangers. He will also be able to learn more about himself when he practices personal space. Does he like to be hugged by strangers, or does he need to get to know them a little more first? Figuring this out can set the stage for his personality long-term.
When your child respects the personal space of his peers, everyone can avoid discomfort, annoyance, and sometimes heated situations. And as an adult, your child will understand personal boundaries in his various encounters and interactions.
How to Teach Your Child About Personal Space
If you feel that your child is having some difficulty learning about personal space and how to respect others in that sense, then you might have to step in and help them out a little bit. Note that this is not uncommon, nor should you be overly concerned; just use some parenting tricks to give your child a little push in the right direction.
One tactic you can use is by physically implementing a hula-hoop. A hula-hoop is a great tool to create an appropriate amount of space because it forms a physical boundary. This boundary represents the invisible boundaries that your child can visualize throughout their daily interactions.
Stand inside the hula-hoop and have your child stand outside of it. Tell him that he can’t come any closer than the circle, and have him practice where he can stand. After a few minutes of practice, take the hula-hoop away and let him try to figure out where to stand.
You can use this technique throughout the week or longer – as long as it takes to engrave this idea in your child’s mind.
At the same time, remember to explain to your child why this skill is essential and how it will help them gain success and strengthen relationships. Our kids learn from us, so it’s vital that we explain things well rather than just enforcing arbitrary rules.
Much like cooperation, following directions is a crucial step in a child’s development. Those who can follow instructions find themselves in successful situations across projects, team environments, classroom situations, and subordinate roles.
On the flip side of this, not following directions can lead to consequences. If your child can’t learn to follow directions, they can end up in trouble with classmates, teachers, and grades. This behavior only becomes worse if allowed, so enforcing the importance of following directions is vital to your child’s life later on.
If your son or daughter is having a hard time listening to instructions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad kids. It simply means they need a little bit of guidance, and that’s what you’re there for.
Benefits of Following Directions
Learning to follow directions can make you an excellent team player. Anyone who can take instructions well can learn to improve himself, which can ultimately help those around him.
When learning a new sport, if someone is teachable, they have potential. In a team sport, this is especially important because how you play affects all of your teammates – not just yourself. By learning how to follow directions from a young age, your child is likely to have more success in helping project teams, impressing his boss, and achieving team victories.
Following directions can also help keep him safe in difficult situations where the details matter. This, coupled with cooperation and listening skills, can help get him out of sticky situations.
How to Help Your Child Learn to Follow Directions
When trying to instill the importance of following directions to your child, remember just to keep it simple. At a young age, kids have a hard time grasping complex ideas, thoughts, and words, so the simpler, the better.
For example, rather than delivering a list of things they need to accomplish, take it step by step. Don’t tell your child to get dressed, brush his teeth, and put his shoes on – you’re going to overload him. Ask him to get dressed, and once he shows you that he’s completed that task, tell him his next mission.
Another strategy you can use is to phrase your direction correctly. If you say to your child, “Do you want to get dressed now?” it implies that he has the choice to say no. Instead, say, “Please go get dressed for school now.”
Finally, some directions are important in terms of safety. In these cases, it’s wise to explain the reasoning behind it. When the fire alarm goes off, it’s important for him to stay in line and listen to his teacher to avoid getting hurt.
It’s important to have manners. Even as adults, I’m sure we all know people who lack certain behaviors. It all starts with the basics, which begin during a very young age bracket. Being polite and respectful can get you a long way, and it’s a sign that you’re aware of basic human decency.
Many people are often impressed with young kids who have excellent manners – as they should be. Children who use good manners are a direct reflection of their role models, including parents, siblings, grandparents, and other guardians.
A well-mannered child is easy to work with, likable, and attention-inducing. People like someone who is polite and kind, and likeability plays a big role in a person’s life in the long run.
Benefits of Using Manners
Using good manners is a good way to gain someone’s trust and respect quickly. People are naturally drawn to someone who is polite, respectful, and genuinely kind. In the best way possible, manners are also the right way for your child to get what he wants.
In terms of making friends, building bonds with authority figures, and respecting parents, a child who uses manners will have a much easier time than one who doesn’t.
Think of the child demands a cookie and screams and cries when you say no, versus the child who asks politely for a cookie and says “thank you” when it’s handed to him.
As a parent, you want to reward the child who is polite and uses good manners – not just because he’s said the right things, but because rewarding good behavior is a great way to instill good habits.
These good habits will follow your child throughout their schooling and into the real world, where strangers will appreciate him holding the door for them, and his boss will notice his respectful attitude.
How to Teach Your Kids Good Manners
The best way to teach your children about good manners is to have them yourself. Your kids are like sponges – they take in everything they hear and see. You may have already noticed this when your son tries on his dad’s work ties, or your daughter utters a word that you didn’t realize she heard you say.
The good and the bad – they see it all.
So, when you practice good manners, your kids are more likely to pick up on them. It’s vital that you consistently use words and phrases like please, thank you, and excuse me. Rather than trying to teach this to your child when you think they are starting to understand, start off using these words around them from infancy. It will no longer be something you have to teach, but something that has always been normal.
Of course, as we mentioned, rewarding good manners is always a good tactic. Make sure you stand firm in teaching manners. If your child doesn’t say please, do not allow him to have whatever it is he is asking for until he does.
If he doesn’t say thank you, gently remind him to do so and have him repeat it back to you. The constant affirmation and repetition will help him learn.