Supporting your child's social development

Children are constantly learning about their world and how to get along with others. A child’s desire to connect with others motivates them to learn and gives the child confidence to try new things.

Children’s social development is closely related to their emotional development. Children who can control their feelings, such as anger or excitement, are more likely to be able to engage in positive play with other children and negotiate difficulties with others when they arise. Equally, children who understand the feelings of others will be better able to be sensitive to the needs of other children during play.

As a parent, you are the most important connection to your child and between your child and others in their world. Children learn about relationships from the ways you relate to them and others.

All children go through different phases of social development. Children develop social skills mostly through games and play. How children play changes with age. As they grow, children move from playing alone to playing alongside other children and finally play co-operatively with other children.

Know your child

Children of different ages, backgrounds and personalities experience different challenges in developing social skills. Some children make friends easily and others less so. Some children are shy and others outgoing. Sometimes children have no trouble developing some social skills but do have difficulty with others.

Observe your child in different social situations. Notice how they manage. Do they seem different in different settings? Are they lacking in confidence? Do they need help to join in? What are they doing easily? What, if anything, are they finding more difficult?

Just like learning to walk and talk, a child’s developing social skills require support, practice and repetition.

Ways to help your child

Create a climate of kindness and generosity at home. Encourage sharing and being considerate of others.

Model the social behaviour you want to encourage in your child. Older siblings can also be helpful role models for younger bothers and sisters.

Ask children for help with daily chores and accept their offers of help.

Encourage a variety of appropriate relationships between your child and others - both adults and children.

Help children to feel positive about themselves. Positive self esteem is critical to healthy social development.

Support children to understand their own feelings and the feelings of others.

Help your child to develop skills in knowing how to join in with a group, take turns and follow rules.

Have reasonable expectations about sharing. Some toys may be more difficult than others for a child to share, for example, a favorite toy. Put these things away when your child is playing with friends.

Provide lots of opportunities for children to play with others.

Ask your child’s preschool or school who your child spends time with and set up play dates with them.

Keep play dates for young children short, simple and fun. Introduce structured activities to the play for very young children. Gradually extend the length of time children play, increase the number of children involved and decrease the amount of structure you put in place as your child gets older and you can see that they have developed the skills to manage in these situations.