Learning how to interact with other children is an important part of a child's education. Unfortunately, not every child will form an early ability to assert herself or feel comfortable in her own skin. Teachers and parents can use a variety of activities to improve children's social skills. Help kids become comfortable in social and classroom settings.
Show children how to express gratitude, deliver an apology or make a request. This is a fundamental and practical activity to help children improve their social skills. Saying "please" and "thank you" to peers and adults is a gentle and positive way to teach children good interaction skills. Manners are a valuable way of meeting people--receiving positive responses will help children feel more comfortable in social situations. Encourage these pleasantries early and frequently, as an everyday social activity.
Music is a natural social bond, and children are not immune to its charms. Select songs for a group of children to encourage everyone's participation, even the most shy. Try to find a song that will appeal to everyone--consider using silly and lively songs.
Give the children copies of the song lyrics until they can remember the words. Try The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" or "All Together Now," for example. Place the children in a circle or facing one another so they can all observe each other having fun and finding common ground in song and laughter. In addition to improving children's social skills, this also works well as an educational activity. Use songs to teach children math skills, grammar rules or the names of the 50 states (see Resources).
Encourage role-playing. Have children--especially the more introverted kids--play strong characters and assert themselves. This activity gives children permission to step outside of the shy roles they may have assigned themselves. Let them know they can be silly and over the top while still being polite. A parent or teacher also can play along and coax a shy child into participating by asking the child questions she will feel confident answering.
For instance, young girls may be able to identify with Ella--based on Cinderella--from Gail Carson Levine's "Ella Enchanted." Ella defiantly fights against a childhood curse of obedience. Ella's character symbolizes the struggle to overcome social obstacles, even those that are self-imposed. Young boys can pretend to be Harry Potter, who gains strength from his personal growth throughout J.K. Rowling's series. He overcomes his feelings of vulnerability and introversion and learns to stand up for himself and his friends.
Make the role-playing exercise transparent. Help the children understand they need to work on improving their social skills. Ask a child to be assertive, authoritative, outgoing or funny as you approach him as a potential friend. Assure the child that it is not always important to say "the right thing," but instead to be himself. Urge children to have fun when meeting new people. Remind them that positive social situations stem from being honest, engaged and confident--not from being perfect.
The classroom experience, which focuses mainly on education, may not provide enough social interaction. Social organizations for children are abundant. Extracurricular activities give children a view of the world outside of their family and classroom. Give children a chance to experience a larger social environment.
Choose a group that fits your child's personality and interests. Athletic children may enjoy joining a sports team, such as soccer, football, basketball or softball. Children also may enjoy joining the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H Club or Boys & Girls Clubs of America. In addition to improving children's social skills, such groups can teach members how to work together, do their best and become responsible, caring individuals.
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