This story was originally published on October 1, 2019. It has been updated.
Talking about social challenges is never easy. For most mamas, the dread of how to begin keeps us from having the conversation at all. Research shows that playing and interacting with others builds executive function skills, content knowledge, and creative thinking—all important skills that are just as important for preschoolers as for middle-schoolers.
So why is it so difficult to encourage socialization? How can you help your child to communicate and improve their social skills—especially in an overscheduled, screen-ridden environment?
Here are 10 phrases to say that will help your kindergartener hone their social skills:
1. “What does it mean to be a good friend?”
Don’t be afraid or timid to talk about friendship. By doing this, we are teaching our children to be good friends. Ask your child, “Who do you know that is a good friend to you?” and “How were you a good friend today” to spark conversations.
2. “Who are you playing with these days?”
Explore what your child is doing for fun and who they enjoy playing with at school and during their free time. Take the perspective of curiosity, but don’t leap into a lecture if you get a response you don’t like—just gather information.
3. “If you could change one thing about your friendships, what would it be?”
Positive parenting is about exploring and asking the right questions to get kids to think differently. In doing so, it’s important to ask little ones to reflect on their relationships (good and bad) so they can understand how they want to engage in social situations. To do this, refer to something your child has said about communicating with others. Start with, “I keep thinking about a conversation we had the other day, and you said you dread social stuff because it’s hard for you.”
4. “Everyone is working on something. Do you want to hear what I am working on?”
Sharing a personal story or a lesson you’ve learned about socialization can be a source of inspiration for your little one. Share your personal challenge, then suggest, “What if we each pick something hard and we work on it together. I think it might be good to work on your friendship skills. What do you think?”
5. “You often complain about Jenny and how she treats you. How would you like her to treat you?”
Listen to the way your child describes social disappointments. Just listen—don’t jump in to correct them or argue. You can simply acknowledge what you’re hearing and follow up with, “What makes you frustrated about Jenny?
6. “What are you doing well as a friend? What can you do to be a better friend?”
Allow your child to consider their role as a friend. Rather than telling them what they are not doing, allow them to contemplate and problem solve. Also, if your child is in second or third grade, allow them to explore their assumptions about social life and friendship in general.
Do they believe they’ll never have friends? Do they believe it’s not worth trying to befriend someone? Some responses could include, “What makes you say that? How come? Tell me more.”
7. “What are your specific strengths? What makes something easy for you?”
Everyone has different strengths. Help them understand what they are good at and what it means to be able to have social intelligence. Follow up with, “Who do you know who is good at the same things? Who do you know that is smart about social stuff?”
8. “Did I ever tell you about my experience with friendship at your age?”
You can share an example from a friend’s child, or you can share a friendship from your past, telling it with detail. Doing this helps open your child’s thought process.
9. “I hear you say that a lot. What do you mean by that?”
Listen to the way your child describes themself in the role they believe they have in their peer group or family. Comments such as, “I’m always the one who gets in trouble,” “I’m just the funny girl,” “I’m such a loser,” or, “They’re just stupid,” show an underlying story or narrative they are telling themselves.
Ask them about those statements or comments they make to help them think about their relationship with others.
10. “I notice you didn’t talk to anyone at karate yesterday. I am curious how come?”
If your child isn’t a talker or able to find the words to express himself, you can say, “I notice…” and share an observation or an image. Ask if they agree or disagree with your perception.