Promoting positive social skills amongst young children

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Promoting positive social skills amongst young childrenThree ways parents can encourage positive social development

Many parents express concern regarding the social development of their children, seeking ways to augment positive social skills. In Dimensions of Early Childhood (2010), social skills are defined as ‘behaviours that promote positive interaction with others and the environment’. Though many children develop these skills naturally, some require guidance. The following are ways in which you, as a parent, can help to promote these positive social skills.

1. Model and directly teach positive social behaviours.

According to Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, individuals learn social behaviours by observing those around them. The most immediate models for young children are parents, peers, and teachers. Therefore, parents should model the behaviours that they want to see in their children.

Direct teaching of positive social skills such as turn-taking, initiating, requesting, and sharing can occur via role play, reminding the child of a skill prior to a situation in which it may be used, narrating throughout a situation where a skill is in use, or using a social story.

For more information regarding social stories, visit:

2. Strategically arrange the environment.

Research has shown that positive social interactions can be fostered through careful arrangement of the environment. When assembling a play area, make sure it is large enough to provide a child with ample personal space, but small enough to promote interaction. Moreover, the toys made available to children in their environment impact the interaction as well. Toys or activities that encourage cooperative play facilitate and support social interaction (such as cars, blocks, and dolls). Conversely, toys that encourage competition should be avoided.

3. Provide your child with positive play opportunities.

Seek opportunities for your child to play with children of a similar age. Grouping children with social deficits with their socially adept peers increases the frequency and duration of a peer interaction, facilitating the use of positive social skills. Systematically incorporating planned social interactions like a play date provides children with opportunities to learn positive social skills, as interacting via play with typically-developing peers provides age-appropriate models. During free play, a child has the opportunity to put into place skills they have been taught directly.

Helpful tips for play dates:

  • Participate! As a parent, you can support the use of social skills, make suggestions, and verbally praise positive behaviours.
  • Limit the number of activities available in order to discourage independent, solitary play.
  • Try to provide interesting and novel activities.
  • Avoid using a child’s favourite toy. This can elicit feelings of possession and therefore a decreased desire to share.

Greater engagement in social interactions plays a role in decreasing inappropriate behaviour. Likewise, positive social skills established in the early years form the foundation for friendships established and maintained throughout adulthood. These skills lay the groundwork for cognitive development, effective communication, and academic success.

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