Social skills, such as learning how to play with others, playing pretend and working together, begin to develop at a young age. Coaching and interaction from caring adults help children learn these skills, and it takes time and practice.
Social and emotional skills help children understand others and develop relationships, and there are a lot of ways you can help. Teaching actions and words to use with others can help children better communicate their needs, wants and emotions. Establishing daily routines helps children feel safe and secure as they try new things.
Here are ideas to help preschoolers from ages 3 to 5 years develop social and emotional skills.
- Act out a well-known story like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, exaggerating the emotions while you or the children tell it or act it out. Gather stuffed toy animals, bowls and spoons, three chairs, and towels or blankets for the beds.
- Read or tell stories to preschoolers throughout the day. Have the children select books they are interested in. Include books that introduce or enhance learning activities, and connect to real-life experiences or themes from topics being taught.
- Play games like “I Spy.” Identify an object in the room. Describe it to the children providing one hint at a time until they guess the right object, like, “I spy something that is round. Red. Hot. On the stove.” It’s the pan of spaghetti cooking. Or play the game “I’m thinking of an animal. It has four legs, a long neck, and is yellow with brown spots. What is it?” (Answer: a giraffe!)
- Look at photos and talk about the activities and people in them. Older preschool children may enjoy taking photos of each other and talking about what the person was doing in the photo.
- Encourage lots of pretend play. During pretend play, switch roles: let the children pretend to be the grownup and you be the child. Or pretend to go to the pizza or coffee shop. Children can be the cook or the waitstaff and “write” down your order.
- Play a card game such as Go Fish, Old Maid, or Concentration. Simple board games, like Candyland, are fun for preschoolers. Games help preschool-age children learn to take turns.
- Make up stories together where the children take turns determining what happens next. You can offer suggestions like “Do they next go to the park, the beach or a movie?” Make up stories about toys or stuffed animals that you have placed or hidden around the house.
- Practice taking turns solving social problems by playing a word game where you ask, “What might happen next?” For example, what might happen next if you bring a snowball in the house or you build a tower taller than you?
- Complete a scavenger hunt as teams of two. Designate a place for the team’s collection basket. The team must go out together to find an object and bring it back to deposit in the basket. Then they are given the next object to find. Partners must work together until all objects are found. Ideas for objects are things with different textures like smooth or bumpy; geometric shapes like circles, squares and rectangles; or natural objects like rocks, pinecones, etc.
For more information on how to support a child’s development, visit helpmegrowmn.org.