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When we think of school readiness, we often think of math and reading skills – but social skills are just as important. Research shows that children who get along with peers as well as adults do better in school. They also tend to lead happier lives. 

One of the main ways children learn social skills is through play. Playing with others requires negotiation and problem solving skills. Children learn this from playing with other peers, but also from playing with children of different ages including adults. There are several things you can do with your child to build on their skills. 

Be Present During Playtime (and Make Time for Yourself) 

The most important thing is to really be there for your child. Obviously, you can’t do this all the time.  You also have to make dinner and do other household chores, talk with your spouse, and take care of yourself (and yes, it is good parenting to also take care of yourself). Here are some things to keep in mind when making an effort to be there for your child: 

  • When you do play with your child, or even just talk to your child, give them your full attention.   
  • Put your phone down and tune in to your child.   
  • If you do have to take a phone call or text, let your child know. 
  • It is better to give your full attention for a shorter amount of time than it is to play while you are distracted

Plan a Play Date

Another way to encourage social development is to arrange play dates for your child and a friend. Of course your child makes friends at St. David’s Center, but play dates give your child one-on-one time which allows them a chance to interact with a higher degree of success. They can then apply these skills to bigger groups of children as they get older. 

Play dates do present unique challenges, so it is important to be prepared. Here are some tips if you are hosting: 

  • Ask your child to choose a few favorite toys to put away (or out-of-sight) so they don’t have to share those.   
  • Have plenty of props for pretend play so they don’t have to argue over one favorite item (especially preschoolers).  
  • Plan a snack ahead of time with your child. You don’t want to do this when they have already reached the “hangry” stage. 

Even with all of this planning, a play date may result in tears. Toddlers and preschoolers are still learning some basic social skills. It is hard (or impossible) for them to see a situation from any other perspective besides their own. When this happens, reach out your hands, tell them they look sad and offer to comfort them. When a child starts crying, they are giving you a message: “Comfort me,” or “Help me organize my feelings.”

Don’t think of this as a failed attempt at social skills. When your child knows that they can rely on you to be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind, they can explore new social skills with the comfort of knowing that you are always there for them. 

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