Last week, I talked about the importance of giving kids time to play to promote social-emotional learning – this includes a child's ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of himself and others, and to use that knowledge to practice skills necessary for appropriately interacting with others.
Here are some tips on how to teach this important set of skills:
1. Capitalize on teachable moments. When your child is arguing with friends, use that as an opportunity to talk about sharing. Ask your child questions about the problem and help lead them to the solution. For example, say, "Bobby, it sounds like you and Johnny want to use that toy. What do you think we should do? What do you think would make both of you happy?"
2. Guide children in a nonthreatening manner. For example, in the situation above, say, "If you decided to take turns, you would both get to use the toy. What do you think?" Following your child's response, listen to what he or she says and help them find the right answer. Don't shut down answers such as, "But I want to use it. I don't want Johnny to use it." Use the response to point out the fact that Johnny may not want to play anymore if he doesn't get a turn.
3. Guide your child in an age appropriate manner. If the child is 2, work on appropriate expression of emotion. If your child is 4, work on caring and sharing.
4. When guiding the development of social skills, take time to consider the different skills involved. Here's an example following an incident in which your child Jane steals a toy from her friend Alice:
Use a cue to indicate a behavior you did not want to see, "No thank you, Jane! We do not take toys."
Next, provide an alternative solution, suggesting Jane ask for the toy. Then, request that Jane repeats the phrase: "Say, 'May I please have the toy?'"
Finally, praise Jane for the new behavior, "Good job! Thank you Jane."
5. Practice good modeling. As parents, we must model good social-emotional behavior for our children. We can't forget to say please and thank you when asking our children to do something. We have to remember to make requests respectfully and indicate the reason for the request: "Please pick up your toys so we have room to play a new game," instead of "Pick up your toys now!" How many times has your child repeated something you've said to them, making you cringe at the tone? When possible share or let your child make a choice at a game or dinner. Using kind words to your child, as well as friends and family, and expressing your dislike appropriately (e.g. "It upsets me when you scream and yell, please just tell me what's wrong") helps teach your child good social emotional skills.
So, when it comes to play, don't feel pressured to design your child's play date! Let them do the work. Then, they'll reap the reward!