How to Teach Social Skills to Kids

52 Essential Card Series by Mind Brain Emotion

Children are naturally curious beings, and they learn by doing and by watching.

But social skills don't always come naturally to our children.  These types of skills can be explicitly taught, modeled, and analyzed.

It’s important for children to know how to act in social situations.  This will benefit them in

  • growing their relationships
  • navigating difficult situations
  • communicating wants and needs clearly
  • achieving goals
  • fulfilling their emotional needs and capacities

When we don’t support our children’s social skills, detrimental consequences can happen like “delinquency, depression, social anxiety, academic failure, and unemployment.”  When you really think about it, it makes sense.  Social skills help our children to enrich their lives.  We are social beings, and so it’s an important skill to develop and strengthen.

Get grade-by-grade benchmark checklists for evaluating social skills (great for parents, teachers, and specialists):

What are social skills?

Most of the time, we think social skills are the ways in which we talk to each other, but there’s a whole other aspect of social skills that goes beyond the spoken word.  It’s also all the ways we communicate non-verbally.

 Nonverbal communication includes making

  • eye contact
  • facial expressions
  • gestures
  • positioning
  • space

These are powerful ways to communicate to others, but for some children this can be difficult to grasp and understand.  In order for our children to thrive in social settings, we must provide a variety of opportunities and scenarios to help our children learn, practice, and apply social skills through:

  • Communicating emotions, thoughts, and needs
  • Active listening to understand others' needs and expectations
  • Resolving disagreements and conflicts in appropriate manner
  • Showing respect and empathy for others' feelings
  • Making, maintaining, and troubleshooting relationships

Why the 52 Essential Social Skills Series?

The pandemic severely limited the opportunities and varieties of social situations that were developmentally-important in helping our children to learn and practice these important social skills.  As educators, we observed students coming back from distance learning acting much more emotionally immature and socially incompetent than their age.

This ☝️, is the biggest reason why we developed the 52 Essential Social Skills series for K-3th, 3-6th, and 6-8th grades.  A lack of social skills will not only set our children back socially and emotionally, but also academically.  How can our children learn if they are dealing with behavioral distractions in class, inability to focus, and preoccupation with social anxiety?

Here's another kicker:  simply helping your child with social skills is not enough.  We must also come together as a community (home-school partnership) to help all students develop social skills.  This is one of the most important way to support our teachers to ensure quality teaching and learning time.

Access the "How to Teach" Library for:

Ways to Help Children Develop Social Skills

Refer to these 12 Teaching Principles when working with children using any deck in the 52 Essential Card Series.   

1.  Encourage your child to make their own appointments.

Get your child on the phone to make reservations, request doctor and dentist appointments, and play dates.  This helps your child build their confidence in communicating with others without the added pressure of an audience.

2.  Cook (and supervise) a meal.

Children need to learn how to follow directions, and with your guidance, they can follow a recipe to make a meal.  This will help your child understand why directions are important to follow, and they’ll feel more confident in creating something of their own.

3.  Play games.

Playing games with your child builds so many fundamental social skills like rule following, active listening, turn-taking, and conflict-resolution skills.  Use 52 Essential Conversations to develop your child’s communication skills while having fun.

To build intrapersonal skills, use the red suits.  For example, draw a the 6 of hearts:  Self-Reflection

Describe a time when you got really mad.  Roleplay what you said and did. 

Imagine that you time traveled back a year and saw your younger self.  What advice would you give yourself?

You can model a time when you got really mad and have your child reenact it with you.  Your child will really enjoy this, and then discuss ways you could have regulated yourself.  Then have your child share.

The black suits help build interpersonal skills.  For example, if you want to practice building empathy, draw the 10 of spades:  Empathy

Think of someone you know who is struggling with something.  What is that person thinking?  Feeling?  How can you help?  Describe a fight you had with someone.  What could you’ve done to prevent it from getting worse? 

This will help strengthen your child’s empathetic skills by practicing more self-awareness.  Each card helps your child become thoughtful, reflective, and confident communicators.

4.  Get outside and go to a playground.

Go to a playground or other social setting like a community pool, library, or recreation center where other children your child’s age will be.  Let your child interact with the other children.  When conflict inevitably arises, don’t get involved.  This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important for your child to practice conflict-resolution skills. 

Before you head out to social situations, explain to your child that sometimes problems like disagreements or wanting the same toy can happen, and that it’s okay.  But explain to your child that they can figure out how to solve the problem.  Ask him or her what they can do when problems like that happen and collaborate solutions together.  Then, your child is primed and ready to participate with full autonomy and without your input and help.

5.  Create a chore list.

Give your child a list of chores he or she needs to complete each week.  These chores should be age-appropriate, but it will help your child understand that everyone has a role to fulfill in making their house run smoothly.  Children will feel accomplished and proud of themselves when they are able to complete weekly chores.

6.  Read together.

Reading stories or chapter books together helps your child understand emotions on a deeper level.  Discuss how characters handle conflicts in the story, how the character feels at the beginning, middle, and end of the story.  Ask your child to connect to the reading with this sentence starter:  “This story reminds me of…. What does it remind you of?”

This analysis of character development will help your child unpack challenging and confusing emotions without them being in the midst of that particular emotion.

7.  Improvisational Stories.

Help your child build his or her active listening skills by creating a story through improv.  Everyone can take turns going first, but the first person will describe the setting of the story and the main character’s name.  Then the second person will explain the conflict.  The third person will build upon the conflict.  Keep repeating this process until the story is complete.  You can set certain parameters to ensure better listening.  For example, the story needs to follow a sequence.  The setting can’t change to something outrageous, etc.

These are just a few ways to help your child develop his or her social skills.  Just remember to model, practice, talk, and play.  Keeping it fun will help your child see the value in building social skills. It won’t feel like work when it’s naturally embedded into your daily lives.