Learning social skills is essential for preschoolers' development. Preschoolers who acquire good social skills are better equipped to navigate social situations, make friends, and communicate effectively. In addition, having strong social skills promotes emotional regulation and reduces the likelihood of behavior problems.
Parents, caregivers, and educators play a critical role in supporting the social development of preschoolers. By providing opportunities for children to engage in social activities, model positive behaviors, and offer guidance and feedback, childcare providers can help preschoolers build a strong foundation for social skills development.
Social skills that preschoolers need to develop
Developing social skills through play helps preschoolers gain empathy and learn to communicate with others. In preschool, children learn how to cooperate, share, recognize emotions, and listen to others, among other social skills.
By learning to cooperate, preschoolers develop the skills necessary to communicate with others and work together to complete common goals. Preschoolers can learn to cooperate through activities that require more than one participant and taking turns.
Learning to share helps preschoolers develop empathy, self-regulation, and conflict resolution. Children begin to develop the skills needed to share between 3 and 4 years old and there are plenty of ways to help foster this skill in young children. For example, when you are playing together, you can model how to take turns, such as taking turns flipping the pages of a book or putting toys back on a shelf.
You can also use a timer to help teach children when their turn is up or include them when coming up with strategies around sharing. For instance, if two children are fighting over one toy, acknowledge the situation and ask for their opinions. You could say, “It looks like there’s only one car to play with and two of you. What should we do?”. This will help empower children to work together and problem-solve.
Learning to recognize emotions is a crucial step to developing empathy toward others. Preschoolers who learn to recognize emotions in others can regulate their own emotions more easily. When reading books, identify the character’s emotions and point out their facial expressions and body language. Talk about how the characters might feel in certain situations to illustrate that all people have feelings.
Listening to others
Learning to listen helps preschoolers develop effective communication skills. By modeling active listening skills, like observing and listening to children’s feelings and reflecting them back to them, preschoolers can feel understood and learn to explore their own emotions and the best ways to express them. Responding without judgment and acknowledging children’s feelings when they are upset can help them better understand why they are feeling that way and discover their own solutions to the problem.
Teaching preschoolers social skills with activities
Teaching social skills to preschoolers through fun activities is an effective way to support their development in this area. There are various engaging activities that promote cooperation, communication, and empathy, making developing these skills meaningful and fun. Incorporating social skills activities into your daily classroom routines allows you to provide the tools preschoolers need to succeed socially and emotionally.
Why it’s important for preschoolers to learn social-emotional skills
Social and emotional skills, like self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, communication, and cooperation, play a critical role in children’s development. Children who acquire these skills early in life are better equipped to handle the social and emotional demands of life and school. When preschoolers learn these skills, they are more capable of understanding their own feelings and the feelings of others, managing their emotions, and communicating effectively.
The benefits of teaching social-emotional skills to preschoolers are vast. Here are a couple of benefits you can expect.
- Academic success: Teaching social-emotional skills sets the foundation for later academic success. Research shows “consistent longitudinal associations between early emotion knowledge and later academic competence in young children.” This is because social-emotional skills help children develop the ability to focus, follow directions, and work collaboratively with others. They also help children manage their emotions and behavior, which can lead to better classroom engagement and less disruptive behavior.
- Positive relationships:. Preschoolers who develop social-emotional skills are more capable of forming positive relationships with their peers and teachers. They’re more likely to be accepted by their peers, have more friends, and experience less bullying. These positive relationships help create a supportive learning environment, which can also lead to greater academic achievement.
In addition to these two primary benefits, children with strong social-emotional skills are also more likely to have better mental and physical health outcomes and better career prospects later in life. Investing in the social and emotional development of preschoolers sets them up for success in all aspects of their lives. These benefits are even greater for children with delays in social-emotional skills due to early socioeconomic disadvantages.
Watching and performing puppet shows can teach preschoolers to recognize emotions, listen to others, communicate, and cooperate with other children.
Puppet shows can be used as a standalone activity or in conjunction with lesson plans to explain complicated concepts.
Simon Says is a simple activity preschoolers can play while socially distanced. Playing Simon Says teaches preschoolers to listen to others, follow directions, and communicate.To play Simon Says:
- Choose one child to be "Simon."
- Have Simon give the rest of the children a physical instruction that begins with "Simon says..." For example, "Simon says touch your elbow."
- Every child must follow Simon's instruction.
- If Simon gives an instruction that doesn’t begin with "Simon says...", any children who follow the instruction are eliminated from the game.
Building towers with toy blocks encourages preschoolers to communicate with each other, take turns, and cooperate.
Place a toy block on a table and have a child place a block on top of it. Then, have the rest of the children take turns placing a block on the top of the tower. Encourage the children to communicate to determine who will put the next block on the tower.
Having preschoolers assemble simple jigsaw puzzles as a group encourages them to communicate with each other and cooperate to accomplish a common goal.
Passing a ball
Preschoolers can improve their listening, communication, and cooperation skills by passing balls to each other.
Sit with your children in a large circle. Pass the ball to the child to your left, then have them pass the ball to the child to their left. Have the children continue to pass the ball around the circle. Once the ball has been returned to you, pass it to the child to your right and have them continue to pass it to the right.
You can make the activity more challenging by having the children change the passing direction before the ball returns to you.
Preschoolers can improve their listening and communication skills by passing messages to each other while playing the telephone game.To play the telephone game:
- Have the children sit together in a line.
- Have the first child think of a word or short phrase and whisper it to the next child in line.
- Have the child who was told the word or phrase whisper it to the next child in line. Repeat until the message reaches the last child in line.
- Have the last child say the word or phrase aloud.
- Have the first child in line confirm if the message is correct or if the message was lost along the way to the last child.
If you're looking for more activity ideas that promote social skills and other skills across developmental domains, check out our free list of activities!
How families can foster social development in preschoolers
In the age of social distancing, it can be difficult for preschoolers to build social skills, so they may need extra support. Families can take steps to create a home environment that helps to develop their child's social skills and reinforces the lessons that you teach in the classroom.
Validate their child's emotions
Parents and guardians can help their children identify and work through their emotions by validating them. When parents validate their child's emotions, they acknowledge their child's feelings without judging them or commenting on how they “should” be feeling. Emotional validation helps preschoolers feel heard and understood.
Teach their child how to apologize
Apologizing is an essential social skill that helps children build empathy. Unfortunately, young children often say "I'm sorry" without meaning it genuinely or changing their behavior. Parents can teach their children how to give an apology that they truly mean by modeling how to give a proper apology.To give a proper apology, parents should encourage their children to:
- Think about how their actions affect others
- Take responsibility for their actions
- Think about how to make the apology meaningful
- Decide if an apology is necessary
Help your preschoolers learn the important social skills they need to succeed by adding these activities to your preschool curriculum. In addition, ask families to continue social skills lessons at home to help supplement the children’s activities and reinforce the lessons they learn in the classroom.