What Kids Learn:
Fitting in with others
Watching kids squabble over a toy is distressing, and so is seeing a group of little ones exclude a potential playmate. Socially confident kids can navigate these tricky situations. They know how to make friends, “play nice,” and strike up conversations with peers and adults.
Social Confidence Skill #1: Knowing How to Say, “Can I Play?”
It’s not easy for a child to approach another kid who is already playing and ask to join in. After all, the answer could easily be “No.” That fear of rejection could stop a child from even trying, and then she misses out on the fun (and the learning that comes with playing with others).
Kids have the most success when they first determine what their playmates are doing, then figure out how they could contribute, then make a suggestion, like “Can I be a kid in your class?” to a group that’s playing school.
How to help:
Pre-game the moment. Together, observe other children and ask leading questions: “What do you think Sam is using the blocks for? Are there enough blocks to share? Should we look for more blocks to play with so you can play, too?” Set up playdates so your child has opportunities to practice this skill one-on-one. It’s easier than jumping into a large group.
Social Confidence Skill #2: Having a Conversation
Kids usually need some coaching on how to be good conversationalists—basics, such as taking turns, not interrupting, and listening politely to what others are saying. Introverts need suggestions and support in starting and continuing a conversation. Extroverts need to learn when to give others a chance to speak.
How to help:
Role modeling and role playing are key! Show your child how to converse comfortably by chatting with him, early and often. Ask his opinion and show sincere interest in his answer. If he’s telling a too-long story, gently guide him toward the point he’s trying to make. Play games that require taking turns, such as Memory or Candy Land. Make sure he has opportunities for imaginative play, too. Those let’s-pretend scenarios can really help him see the world from another perspective.
Social Confidence Skill #3: Reading Cues
To participate fully in social situations and have more rewarding relationships, kids need to be able to read their playmates’ emotions. Then they can understand them and respond appropriately—which takes confidence, because it can be hard to interpret feelings. If a socially confident child sees that two kids are arguing, she might realize that it’s not a good time to jump into their game—or she might even try to find a way to defuse the situation. Or if she senses a friend’s sadness, she might be able to offer support.
How to help:
Start by showing your child how to identify her own emotions: “You have such a big smile on your face! You must be feeling happy,” or “I see tears. Are you sad about something?” Next, you can suggest how to apply this to others. “Jason’s face looks angry. What do you think happened?” or “How do you think Lily felt when she fell off the swing? What could we do to help?”
Social Confidence Skill #4: Self-Assurance
When kids feel good about themselves overall, that carries over into social situations. If they know, for example, that missteps or failures are not the end of the world, they may be more likely to speak up, ask for assistance, or connect with a pal. If they get a brush-off, they don’t take it personally and are willing to (politely) persist.
How to help:
It can seem like a paradox, but kids need to experience failure in order to succeed. They need to know that trying something again is within their power—and eventually, they will master a new skill. That mastery is a huge self-confidence builder. So is your specific praise: not just “Good job,” but “I’m proud of how hard you worked to do that tough puzzle” or “It was kind of you to bring me the book I needed.”