How can I teach my child social skills?

Some children may find socialising more difficult than others. If your child struggles or seems reluctant to be with other people, they may need some support to learn social skills. There are some things you can do to help.  

Practise talking

Practise talking through role play, puppets and storytelling. Talk to your child through the day. You can also narrate what you’re doing, to help develop their language

Let your child see you using good manners, like please and thank you. This will encourage them to act this way with their peers.  

Listen and take turns 

Children learn both verbal and non-verbal skills from the people around them.  To help your child to listen well, you can: 

  • Try showing them what good listening looks like through your own behaviour.
  • Use games like ‘Simon Says’.
  • Read some ideas for listening games for toddlers.

Find ways to make taking turns fun. Choose an object and tell your family they have to be holding it when they talk. Pass it between you. If your child is a little older, take it in turns to make made up sounds as if you are having an alien conversation.  

Show the importance of body language

Practise making eye contact and smiling with your child. If they are old enough to understand, ask them to talk about something while you use poor body language. This could be crossed arms, looking away, or fidgeting.

Ask them how your actions made them feel. Then show them attentive body language. Take it in turns.

Teach them about personal space

Consider teaching your child about personal space. Try:

  • Asking them to put their hands on their hips and stick their elbows out – this is their personal space.
  • Getting everyone in the room to walk around with their elbows out, to see how to give others space.

Introduce the idea of boundaries by asking if you can come into their space. You could say things like, “Can I give you a hug?” or ‘I know you don’t like hugs so shall we high five?”  

Develop their emotional skills 

Help your child understand, express and cope with emotions. This develops their empathy for others and helps them sense how to react to the emotions of others. 

Teach them to problem-solve. If they’re old enough, ask them how they think they could tackle any issues they have. Guide them with questions like “What could you do?” or “What could you say?” Try to avoid fixing it for them.  

You can also talk to them about friendships and what it is to be a good friend. If you can, arrange and support opportunities for socialising. 

Find moments for learning in play

Children use lots of social skills when playing. It can be helpful to spot opportunities in play for learning. You can:

  • Ask your child to help with tasks, and see if they’ll try activities with others, to build teamwork skills.  
  • Teach your child positive ways of responding to winning, losing or not getting their way.
  • Show them you understand when they’re upset, but help them see what the positives could be (might the outcome have made their friend happy?).
  • Show them what sharing looks like when playing at home.

If your child hits or bites, help them recognise how others feel when they’re hurt. Praise your child when you see them playing well. You can also gently encourage your child to apologise if they do hurt someone during play. Or if they don’t feel comfortable doing this, model apologising for them until they feel more confident. You could say something like, “Freddie feels sad that he’s hurt you and he wants to say he’s very sorry.”

You can read more on hitting and biting or playing well with others. We also have advice on teaching your child to share. 

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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