Today we’ll be looking at how to support our child’s social development. Do we force them to be more social? How do we accept them for who they are and teach them skills?
Our children are in community from the day they are born. Their first community is their family, then they may attend day-care and playgroups, and soon after they will join preschool and school. Here are some ideas to help the young child to develop social skills.
Building social skills in our children
1. The child needs to understand themselves – They are learning about who they are and their family. It can be lovely to have books/toys/dolls in which they see themselves represented, photos of our family and friends around the home. When their are 2 different cultures in our family, we can be aware how our child will absorb both of these (including any languages). Remember to include art, song, recipes, story-telling, traditions etc.
2. Help them to understand others – We can read books and explore other cultures. This can be through our family and friends, through visiting different festivals and places of worship, and attending theatre, concerts and community centres. We want our children to learn that everyone matters. We don’t avoid their questions and give clear, honest, age-appropriate answers. And we also model kindness, eg, if our child asks a person in a wheelchair what happened to them, we can mouth “Sorry” and tell our child, “We don’t ask personal questions to people we don’t know.”
3. Translate for them so they (over time) will learn what to say – Some examples:
“Are you saying you’d like a turn when they are all done?”
“Are you wanting to say it’s my turn and it will be available soon?”
“Are you wanting to ask if they would like a hug?”
“Are you wanting to say that you’d like to warm up first and then you’ll say hello/join in when you are ready?”
4. Model, model, model – under 3 years, the best way for our child to learn social skills like saying “thank you,” “please,” or “sorry” is to model it. We can say, “Thanks so much for letting us know that they play dough is available.” “Please can you pass the XXX?” “Sorry. What I should have said it ____ / What I should have done is ____”
5. For children over 3 years old, we can give simple grace and courtesy lessons – we can give them a little lesson and then role play together. Here are some ideas:
– how to ask someone to play
– how to excuse yourself
– how to introduce yourself
– how to shake hands to say hello
– how to walk around a mat that someone is working on
– how to close a door as quietly as possible
6. We can also use social graces in our daily life – for example, to help them learn about taking turns to talk, we can say, “I’d just like to finish listening to what opa has to say, and then I’d love to hear what you have to say.” We can also show them how to put their hand on our shoulder if they’d like to interrupt us.
7. We can show them how we make a repair with another person – if you have an argument with your partner or a friend, often our children do not see us repair the problem. This is important for them to learn conflict resolution skills. We can also help them to make it up to a friend or sibling if they hit them/broke something/hurt them in some way, for example, by offering a tissue or wet cloth, fixing a broken item, etc.
8. We can be kind, accepting and helpful to others – our children will see us cooking a meal for a sick friend, stopping to talk to a homeless person, taking the time to help an elderly person in the store etc. Our children have an absorbent mind, and will be naturally absorbing our example.
9. Be a safe place to practice social interactions – as our children get to around 2.5 years old, they move from mostly parallel play to sometimes wanting to play with a friend. They will often need guidance in these interactions to begin with.
* They may need help to ask if they can play together, “Would you like to ask if you can play together?”
* If the other child says no, we can model how to accept rejection, “It sounds like they don’t want to play right now. Would you like to see if someone else would like to play right now?”
* If we see that our child or the other child is no longer having fun, we can offer words, “Are you still having fun? Would you like to keep playing together or have some time to yourself now?”
Some things to observe
- interactions with other children, other adults and ourselves
- note who initiates the interactions
- how does the child respond during and after the interactions?
So, no, in Montessori we don’t force the child to be something they are not, not more social, not less bouncy. We give them time to warm up if they find social situations difficult; we practice social interactions with children who run up to other children to give them hugs; we support them with who they are; AND we practice the skills that they still need to build.I hope this helps you to support your child’s social development, sometimes overlooked in a Montessori approach.
Would love to hear what you try!