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5 Ways To Maintain Your Child's Social Skills Right Now

Caroline Maguire, M.Ed.
Author and child care expert By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed.
Author and child care expert
Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., is an author of Why Will No One Play with Me?: The Play Better Plan to Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive and child care expert who primarily works with ADHD children and families.
Mother and Her Four Kids Gathered on the Couch

Image by Kristin Rogers Photography / Stocksy

Due to COVID-19, government and medical professionals are urging us to stay physically distant and avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people. Although parents are being asked to promote physical distance outside of the family, helping children develop social skills is still possible. As busy people, we don't always make the time to connect with others in our immediate households—social distancing is the perfect time to do this, no?

Social skills are life skills, and connection to others is essential to mental and physical health. Helping children feel connection is possible, even without playdates and when school is out of session.

Follow these tried-and-true methods of engaging with your family and helping children learn essential social skills, without an electronic device:

1. Have meals together and make eye contact.

Family meals are a time when children and adults can connect and learn to enjoy each other. Ask your child, what are your highs, and what are your lows? What are the sunny parts of your day, and what are the cloudy parts of your day? Prompt your children to make eye contact; ask them to listen to their siblings and to respond and engage in a real conversation. If children are being insensitive, you can promote empathy by asking them to step into each other's shoes and think about how the other feels. 

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2. Promote discussions.

Creating a reciprocal back and forth conversation is a key social skill. Introduce a topic of conversation such as sports, a favorite event, or a future plan. Each time the child builds on a topic, they can add blocks or a Jenga piece or return a ping-pong serve. This gives the child a visual representation of how a conversation grows and that each comment builds on the last comment.  

3. Work on being a good winner and a good loser.

Being a good winner or a good loser is hard for some children. When emotions run high, they tend to get upset and storm off or gloat and brag and rub their victory in the face of others.

Invite your child to select a game to play. During the game, notice your child's body signals—these can serve as warning signs of an exaggerated emotional reaction.

While in an exaggerated state, interrupt your child with a coaching cue and pause the action. Help them draw attention to their emotional state, reminding them they have the power to make a choice.

Help your child connect the dots between what they've experienced, their body's signals, and what they can do the next time they start to lose control. Brainstorm together to create strategies your child can use when recognizing their activation and emotions are becoming too much.

4. Work on sharing and a puzzle.

Meeting people halfway, compromising, and collaborating as a team are key social skills. To teach this, take two simple jigsaw puzzles and deliberately mix up the pieces beforehand. This way, each person has one or two of the pieces that actually belong to the other person's puzzle. Then ask your child to work on them with you.

The test is to see how long it takes them to realize they're stuck, and—without cooperating with each other—neither of you will be able to complete your puzzle. Promote asking your child to collaborate and to work together. 

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5. Promote reaching out.

Many kids struggle to reach out to others and feel embarrassed or do not try to arrange their own socialization. Even in a time of physical distance, connecting to others and reaching out is a key skill, especially for teenagers.

Help your child text, FaceTime, or call peers and grandparents. Help your child decide who they want to reach out to, what to say, and how to do it. As adults, we have to plan our own social interactions, and this is a life skill. 

If your kids are anxious or confused about the global pandemic, here are a few ways you can talk to them and help calm their anxiety.

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