Social skills for kids emerge in early childhood, encompassing empathy, generosity, communication, and teamwork. However, refining these skills throughout childhood requires adult supervision, effort, and practice.
In this guide, you’ll learn a few examples of social skills in children and how best to reinforce positive applications.
What Are Social Skills?
Social skills are verbal, nonverbal, written, and visual communication methods. They are occasionally labeled interpersonal or soft skills.
This combination of verbal and nonverbal behaviors entails initiating and responding to situations. They may involve spoken language, body language, facial expressions, and eye contact.
Why Are Social Skills Important for Kids?
Developing positive social skills is imperative for children in the developmental stage because they are imperative for friendship-making. Honing a child’s social skills can also provide the following benefits:
- They enable kids to communicate effectively and efficiently.
- They help kids build and maintain relationships.
- They increase a child’s likelihood of attending college and achieving full-time employment.
- They reduce stress [*].
- They are less likely to depend on public assistance or experience legal troubles [*].
- They can respond to others according to social cues.
Some children may struggle to develop positive social skills with co-occurring mental health issues. Consider using tools like social skills worksheets for children with autism as part of their developmental program.
10 Important Social Skills for Kids
Below is a comprehensive list of social skills to teach your kids.
Communication is an essential social skill that enables children to make and effectively respond to statements. Children can constructively share and exchange thoughts and ideas and develop conversation skills necessary for socialization.
What it involves: expressing oneself
For example: Praise your child when they communicate well. For instance, “I know you were excited to share this with me, but I’m glad you let me finish speaking first!” Positive reinforcement goes a long way.
Empathy in children develops gradually, so parents, teachers, and caregivers are best off nurturing this skill by extending grace as often as possible. Children will eventually learn to appreciate the similarities and differences between peers—a soft skill essential for understanding and respecting boundaries and personal space.
What it involves: understanding someone else’s feelings and showing concern for others
For example: When two children demonstrate impatience or difficulty sharing, one may express, “I know you want to play too—I love this toy! We can take turns.”
Effective cooperation teaches children that most efforts are more powerful when combined. Children who learn to cooperate early develop patience and learn to participate and function within a community.
What it involves: helping out, sharing, and following rules
For example: Children in classroom settings are encouraged to communicate through peer projects. Parents and caretakers can promote cooperation by facilitating “family work” like home chores and preparing meals.
4. Conflict Resolution
Disagreements and dissatisfaction are common among children, especially when learning to share and communicate. Children can achieve optimal conflict resolution habits by learning to recognize their emotions, pinpoint the source of the problem, and brainstorm solutions.
What it involves: identifying the source of a problem and working toward a solution
For example: Your child might become upset at the park because another child chose not to play with them. Encourage your child to express how they feel with I-statements. For instance, “I felt sad that you didn’t want to play a game with me.” Then, your child may offer a solution. “Maybe we can try a different game next time.”
5. Manners and Etiquette
Some children may behave disrespectfully, like burping loudly or being rowdy to gain attention. While some unruly behaviors are playful and innocuous, teaching children to be polite and respectful in social settings is essential.
What it involves: saying please and thank you
For example: Be a role model to your child by showing them respect and demonstrating good manners with others. Say please and thank you in public service settings, friends’ houses, and whenever you interact with people.
6. Respect for Diversity
Children can better understand those around them by discussing the differences between peers and family backgrounds. In addition, respect for diversity promotes empathy, making children better learners.
What it involves: recognizing and respecting the inherent worth and dignity of others
For example: A child watching a television show or reading a book may ask about someone’s gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or race. If you are unfamiliar with what your child is asking, take the time to educate yourself—use this as a learning opportunity alongside your child.
Impulsivity and emotional control are challenging for children to achieve in their developmental years. However, keeping rules and expectations simple can improve executive functioning and the ability to focus attention.
What it involves: regulating emotions and thinking before acting
For example: A child struggling to adhere to a routine may eventually become accustomed to the cadence of a regular schedule, which is especially beneficial for activities like reading time, chores, and bedtime. Consider “gamifying” these activities to create motivation.
While some children have no problem stating their thoughts, others are more avoidant. Avoidant children may avoid disagreement out of fear of negative consequences, causing them to become submissive. By increasing assertive communication, children become more confident as they age.
What it involves: expressing oneself while respecting opposing beliefs
For example: An assertive child, when presented with an opportunity they are not particularly interested in (such as a sport, game, or other extracurricular activity), can politely decline. Encourage assertiveness by targeting individual behaviors like learning to say no, discussing their feelings, and making requests.
Patience can help children maintain healthy relationships and achieve future goals when nurtured. Children who develop patience in their early years are less dependent on others and hone advanced problem-solving skills.
What it involves: waiting to receive or achieve something and honoring the process
For example: A child with a penchant for baking may eventually learn that pastries take time to rise. Consider introducing other activities requiring patience, such as planting or painting. Reinforcing patience activities can improve your child’s friendships and ability to achieve their goals.
Navigating sadness and anger can be challenging for children who haven’t yet developed reliable emotional intelligence. By acknowledging and processing negative feelings, children can become more confident in their ability to recover and learn from mistakes.
What it involves: being optimistic while receiving honest criticism
For example: Practice positive affirmations with your child to improve their self-esteem and self-belief. Keep them short and in the present tense. For instance, “I am doing my best, and I am proud of myself.”
Tips on How to Teach Social Skills to Kids
Below are a few tips for parents, teachers, and caretakers to help their children develop appropriate social skills.
- Normalize mistakes. Communicate to your child that you don’t expect perfection. Reinforce that mistakes are normal.
- Follow your child’s interests. Socializing with peers will be more palatable to children doing something they genuinely enjoy. Introduce them to children with similar interests in sports, crafts, and hobbies.
- Know your child’s limits. Some children are more social than others. Don't aggressively push your child out of their comfort zone if they are introverts.
- Be a good role model. The example you set for your child is imperative to their emotional development. Ask questions while taking the time to listen actively. Impart upon them the same respect you expect in return.
Frequently Asked Question
When do children typically start developing social skills?
Children typically start developing social skills during infancy, with more significant milestones occurring in the toddler and preschool years as they engage in play and interactions with others [*].
What are some common signs of a child struggling with social skills?
Common signs of a child struggling with social skills may include difficulty making friends, understanding social cues, limited eye contact, and challenges with sharing or taking turns.
Are there specific activities or games that can help improve my child's social skills?
Activities like group playdates, board games, and team sports can help improve a child's social skills by encouraging cooperation, communication, and empathy in a social context.
The Bottom Line
This list of social skills to teach your kids is imperative to fostering healthy friendships and learning to collaborate with peers. Honoring your child’s limits and being a good role model allows them to easily and willingly develop these social skills over time.
While seeing your child struggle is never easy, being a parent is just as challenging. Help your child reach their fullest potential with our collection of worksheets.
- Larose et al. “Impact of a social skills program on children’s stress: A cluster randomized trial.” Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2019.
- Damon et al. “Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness.” American Journal of Public Health. 2015.
- Bornstein et al. “Social competence, externalizing, and internalizing behavioral adjustment from early childhood through early adolescence: Developmental cascades.” Development and Psychopathology. 2010.