The history of the world in 6 glasses
Social skills activities that help kids forge positive relationships. How can we help children develop social competence -- the ability to read emotions, cooperate, make friends, and negotiate conflicts? But there is nothing quite like practice. To develop and grow, kids need first-hand experience with turn-taking, self-regulation, teamwork, and perspective-taking. Here are 17 research-inspired social skills activities for kids, organized loosely according to age-group.
For more information about boosting social competence, see these tips for. Babies are capable of spontaneous acts of kindness, but they can be shy around new people. How can we teach them that a new person is a friend? One powerful method is to have young children engage in playful acts of reciprocity with the stranger. These might include. When Rodolfo Barragan and Carol Dweck tested this simple tactic on 1- and 2-year-olds, the children seemed to flip a switch.
The babies began to respond to their new playmates as people to help and share with. There was no such effect if children merely played alongside the stranger. To give kids a boost, they recommend this game for preschool groups:. Have children sit in a circle, and give a ball to one of them. Then ask this child to name someone in the circle and roll the ball to him or her.
The recipient then does the same thing--naming a recipient and rolling the ball--and the process repeats itself throughout the game Teachers' College, Columbia University To get along well with others, children need to develop focus, attention skills, and the ability to restrain their impulses. The preschool years are an important time to learn such self-control, and we can help them do it. Traditional games like "Simon Says" and "Red light, Green light" give youngsters practice in following directions and regulating their own behavior.
For more information, see the research-tested games described in my article about teaching self-control. For additional advice about the socialization of young children, see this Parenting Science article about preschool social skills. Young children are often inclined to help other people. How can we encourage this impulse? Research suggests that joint singing and music-making are effective social skills activities for fostering cooperative, supportive behavior.
For example, consider this game of "waking up the frogs. You take a bunch of preschoolers who don't know each other, and direct their attention to a "pond" -- a blue blanket spread on the floor with several "lily pads" on it. Toy frogs sit on the lily pads. Then you tell the children the frogs are sleeping.
It's morning, and the frogs need our help to wake up! So you give the children simple music instruments like maracas , and ask them to sing a little wake-up song while they walk around the pond in time with the music. When researchers played this game with 4-year-olds, they subsequently tested the children's spontaneous willingness to help other kids. Compared with children who had "awakened the frogs" with a non-musical version of the activity, the music-makers were more likely to help out a struggling peer Kirschner and Tomasello To get along with others, kids need to be able to calm themselves down when something upsetting happens.
They need to learn to keep their cool. And surprisingly, one promising way for kids to hone these skills is to engage in dramatic make-believe with others. In a randomized experiment of preschoolers from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, Thalia Goldstein and Matthew Lerner found evidence that these social skills activities helped children develop better emotional self-regulation Goldstein and Lerner After 8 weeks of teacher-led play, kids assigned to play group games of dramatic, pretend play improved more than did children assigned to alternative social skills activities, like playing together with blocks.
In this game, one player acts out a certain emotion, and the other players must guess which feeling is being portrayed. In effect, it's simple version of charades for the very young. Is it helpful? At the very least, it's a way to motivate young children to think about and discuss emotions. And the game has been included along with several other social skills activities in a preschool program developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
People who are good at interpreting facial expressions can better anticipate what others will do. They are also more "prosocial," or helpful towards others. Experiments suggest that kids can improve their face-reading skills with practice. Some kids, including those with autism spectrum disorders, have difficulty maintaining a conversation with peers. Susan Williams White has developed a number of social skills activities to help them, including Checker Stack, a game that requires kids to take turns and stay on topic.
To play this two-player game, you need only a set of stackable tokens -- like checkers or poker chips -- and an adult or peer group to help judge the relevance of each player's contributions. The game begins when Player One sets down a token and says something to initiate a conversation.
Next, Player Two responds with an appropriate utterance, and places another checker on top of the first one. The players keep taking turns to advance the conversation.
How long can they sustain it? How tall can their stack become? When a player says something irrelevant or off-topic, the conversational flow is broken and the game is over White Here is another activity recommended by Susan Williams White -- a game where players form a circle, and take turns contributing to a conversation. The game begins with a player who starts the conversation, and then tosses a ball to someone else in the circle. The recipient responds with an appropriate, relevant contribution of his or her own, and tosses the ball to another child.
And so on. To play successfully, kids must attend to whoever is speaking, and make eye contact during the exchange of the ball. White advises that you participate in the game yourself, and, if you notice that one of the kids isn't getting the opportunity to contribute, you can request that you receive the ball next.
Then you can complete your turn by tossing the ball to the child who was left out White Experiments show it's true of adults and children alike: Successful experiences with cooperation incline us to cooperate with the same people again Blake et al ; Keil et al So it seems likely that cooperative board games -- where players work together on the same team -- could help kids forge friendly relationships.
And research suggests other benefits too. For instance, cooperative games often require players to discuss and debate tactics, and this sort of discussion may encourage children to produce better-reasoned arguments.
Teaming up to sort animals: Matching species with the right habitats. In one study, children worked in pairs on a task that required them to match different animal species with an appropriate habitat.
Compared with kids who played a competitive version of the game, the cooperating children offered more justification for their ideas. They also produced more arguments that considered both sides of the question Domberg et al You can read more about this study -- and the benefits of cooperative games -- in this Parenting Science article. Another form of play that promotes cooperation is team construction.
When kids create something together with blocks, they must communicate, negotiate, and coordinate. As noted above 6 , preschoolers may develop more emotional self-restraint when they participate in joint games of pretend play.
But clinical psychologists have argued that cooperative construction is also useful, particularly for kids on the autism spectrum. In one study of patients with high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome, school children attended a one hour session of group construction play or "Lego therapy" once a week for 18 weeks.
Compared with kids given special training in the social use of language, the kids in the construction group showed greater improvement in their social interactions Owens et al Other research indicates that the benefits of these experiences last for years Legoff and Sherman I haven't found any randomized, controlled experiments on the subject. But it makes sense that cooperative gardening could help kids hone social skills, and there is some research in support of the idea.
Observational studies report that kids improve their social competence when they engage in cooperative gardening Ozer et al ; Block et al ; Gibbs et al To turn gardening tasks into effective social skills activities, encourage kids to team up on tasks. Why did the main character get angry? What kinds of things make you get angry? What do you do to cool off?
When kids participate in group conversations about emotion, they reflect on their own experiences, and learn about individual differences in the way people react to the world. And that understanding helps kids develop their "mind-reading" abilities. In one study, 7-year-old school children met twice a week to discuss an emotion featured in a brief story.
Sometimes their teachers encouraged them to talk about recognizing the signs of a given emotion. In other sessions, the kids discussed what causes emotions, or shared ideas about how to handle negative emotions "When I feel sad, I play with the Wii," or "I feel better when my mother hugs me". After two months, participants outperformed peers in a control group, showing significant improvements in their understanding of emotion.
They also scored higher on tests of empathy and "theory of mind" -- the ability to reason about other people's thoughts and beliefs Ornaghi et al In the traditional game of charades, a player draws a slip of paper from a container and silently reads what is written there -- a phrase describing a situation like "walking the dog" or naming a famous book, film, song, or television show. Then, through pantomime, the player tries to convey this phrase to his or her unknowing team-mates.
What gestures are most likely to communicate the crucial information? The best players are good at perspective-taking, or imagining what viewers need to see in order to guess the answer.
They are also good at interpreting the body language of others. And players have to stay focused on conforming to the rules -- refraining from talk while they pantomime. Moreover, recent research suggests that watching charades switches our brains into "mind-reading" mode:.