By Karen Nemeth, Ed.M

There are many benefits to spending more time at home with your family. You might have more time to relax together or time to play and sing and try new things.

One thing many parents are missing during this period of social isolation is the opportunity for their children to develop social skills. Luckily there are lots of fun and engaging activities families can do to help their child learn those skills at home. Social interactions are enhanced when children learn to:

  • Communicate with others
  • Understand others
  • Use their words and their nonverbal communication skills to express emotions
  • Show caring and support of others
  • Work together.

Here are some activities that will help you build your child’s skills and confidence for a lifetime of social interactions.

  • Describe and name your feelings. Give your child information they can use to learn how others feel and what causes them to feel that way. Instead of saying “I can’t believe my package didn’t come!” you might say “I feel so disappointed that my package didn’t come today because I was really looking forward to opening that box.” This supports their understanding of other people’s feelings and helps them prepare for successful relationships with others.
  • Act out stories. This not only gives children a fun way to practice new vocabulary in English or Spanish, but it also gives them experience communicating the feelings of the characters.
  • Ask your child to talk about how they are feeling instead of using their behavior to communicate. If they throw a toy or start to cry, their behavior is usually helping them communicate. You can show your understanding and help your child express himself by encouraging him to name his feelings. This is an important skill for developing friendships.
  • Express appreciation when you see your child using a social skill that will be helpful in group settings. For example, you might say, “You helped your sister put the blocks away. That’s great – now we have more time to play outside because you worked together!”
  • Look for opportunities to interact with other family members, schoolmates, and friends via video chat or telephone. Research shows that young children can learn a lot from interactive social experiences. Arrange for your child to do social things like playing games with their video chat partners.
  • Talk about the behaviors and feelings of characters your child may see on TV. Talking with an adult about it will enhance your child’s learning from TV. You might ask, “That character did not tell the truth to his friend. How do you think his friend might feel about that?”
  • Give your child opportunities to participate in grown-up tasks and conversations so they can learn about their role in sophisticated social situations. They can build confidence in their part of the family team by throwing away their trash or helping in the garden. They need to practice social skills in a variety of situations.
  • Thank your child when they show care and compassion. A toddler might bring a stuffed animal to comfort you when you seem upset, or a first grader might help their sibling clean up a spill and tell them not to worry about it. It is important to recognize these early expressions of comfort and concern so children grow up knowing they can make a difference to another person.
  • Engage in pretend play with your child. Pretend play can be a wonderful time to practice English or Spanish together. It is also a very important experience of early childhood. It gives children the background they need in understanding how to interact with others. They just love to imitate their favorite adults!

The important thing is to support social interactions and behaviors with a positive, stress-free approach. Children are naturally caring, expressive, and helpful. Our responsibility is to guide them and inform them so they are prepared to have positive and rewarding social experiences throughout their lives. Each step they take toward social development at home is a step toward a confident adjustment to participating in group settings as they grow.

Karen Nemeth, Ed.M.
Is an expert in first and second language development and early learning and she hosts a well-known resource website at www.languagecastle.com. She has written more than twelve books and many articles for teachers, leaders, and families, including her newest book -Families & Educators Together: Building Great Relationships that Support Young Children.She works with many programs, schools, and organizations as a consultant and presenter throughout the U.S. and other countries.