Tuning Up Rusty Social Skills for School Readiness

Tuning Up Rusty Social Skills for School Readiness

After more than a year of closures and limited social contact, the world is opening back up. That means that many children will attend school in person when kindergarten starts this fall. A lot of kids may have had limited contacts with friends this year and unlimited contact with parents and other family members who may have been working from home. The social skills that are so important for succeeding in school might have gotten a little rusty. So we have some tips for using the summer to sharpen those skills and get your student in tip-top shape for the start of school!

Read social stories. Reading books about making friends, sharing, and being friendly can be a great way for children to learn about getting along with other kids when school starts. As you are reading, pause and ask your child for their input about friendship skills. Comments about what being a friend might look like, “She shared her favorite toy with her friend. I bet that made her friend feel happy”. Or questions to teach how to recognize possible new friends, or friendship skills like, “What did that character do that was friendly?” or “How did that character know the other one was someone they might want to play with?”. You can even engage your child with examples of not being friendly and ask, “What could you do instead?”.

Make playdates. If your child has not been seeing many friends, try some playdates with close friends. Watch for examples of your child sharing, cooperating, and problem-solving. Name the skill and tell your child that you are proud of them. If they have trouble remembering how to share, give them some reminders like “When you are finished with the red truck, you could let your friend have it. That would be friendly.” Or, “It looks like you both want to be the one to go first, how could you work this out? Letting your friend go first this time would be friendly, and then maybe next time you could go first.”

Practice meeting new people. When your child gets to school, there are likely to be a lot of new people to meet. Now that we are getting out into the world more often, there are more chances to meet new people. You could talk with your child about meeting new potential friends at the park or playground. Do they know how to ask another kid to play? How about eye contact? Can they crinkle their eyes to show that they are smiling even if they have a mask on? Sometimes kids just need simple prompts like, “You could wave, say ‘hi, my name is___’, and ask, ‘can I play?’”

Work on taking turns. If you or another parent or family member has been at home with your child for the past year, your child may be used to having pretty undivided adult attention. This will not be the way it is in the classroom. The teacher may have 20 kids wanting their attention. This summer is a good time for your child to practice waiting for their turn. One great (and fun) way to do this is to play board games or outdoor games that involve taking turns. Reward your child for sitting quietly while they are waiting to take their turn. This is like what they will have to do in the classroom. You can even make a challenge out of it by making the time between turns longer and longer. See how long your child can sit quietly before they remind you that it is their turn.

Practice waiting. This is like turn taking but a little different because instead of waiting for a turn, this involves waiting in line to go to lunch or out to recess. It can be really helpful to teach your child things to do while they wait. For example, if they are standing in line at school, they can think about their favorite story. Or look out a window. Just having a couple of activities to choose from can help your child have a little more patience when waiting. You and your child can practice while you are in line to check out at the grocery or other stores or waiting for other activities.

After more than a year when socializing has been rarer than usual, all of our social skills may be a little rusty. Play some games, have a little fun, and help your child get ready for school while they practice and sharpen those skills!

Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2021

Image: © Ammentorp | Dreamstime.com

Katherine Pears
Dr. Katherine Pears is a senior scientist at Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC). She earned her Ph.D in clinical psychology and has worked with OSLC since 1998. Katherine is the principal investigator and co-developer of the Kids In Transition to Schools (KITS) program. Currently, she oversees all the clinical and research activities for KITS. When she’s not in her office, you’ll find Katherine in the kitchen whipping up her latest creation or outdoors hiking a scenic trail.

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