We’ve all been there. Your young son or daughter’s lack of social skills makes you cringe and maybe even worry a little bit. Will this child ever stop hitting and learn to “play well with others”?
Fact is, preschoolers are naturally self-centered, and the ability to share, listen, compromise and problem-solve doesn’t always come easily. Youngsters need coaching, modeling, experience – and yes, trial and error – to develop these abilities.
As a parent, you are your child’s first and most influential guide and role model. If you consistently treat others with kindness and respect, chances are good your children will, too.
At some point, of course, growing human beings need to be allowed to develop their own personalities and work out their own social problems. But in the meantime, here are some strategies parents can use to help their children get along in the world:
• Play games. Whether on a board or on the playground, games force children to take turns, play fair, follow rules and handle conflict.
• Once your child is old enough, have them join a team. Sports like baseball and soccer help kids become team players, literally and figuratively.
• Help your child use words (vs. force) to get what he wants. Suggest and model what to say in different situations: “Can I have a turn?” or “Just a minute. You can use this when I’m done”. Then praise your child when you see him following your example.
• Help two children who are fighting (including siblings) step back and find solutions to their disagreements, offering suggestions if necessary.
• Help children recognize and understand their own feelings as well as the feelings of others. “Maybe Janie is feeling angry because someone took her favorite toy.” “I’m sorry you’re feeling sad. It hurts to be called a name.”
• Young children often hit and bite because they don’t know how to express their anger or frustration any other way. Teach them that violence is “not okay” under any circumstances.
• Playing well with others means being able to listen – an invaluable life skill. If your child interrupts a friend mid-story, stop her and get her to wait and pay attention until her friend has finished talking. Your future son- or daughter-in-law will thank you later.
Maria Chavez Wilcox is president of Childhaven. Since 1909, Childhaven has been a safe and caring place for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.