How to develop socially savvy kids

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 January, 2013, 10:46am

My daughter's teacher has suggested that she needs to develop better social skills. She is an only child but we try to remind her to be polite and she usually seems so well behaved.

How children interact with adults differs from how they behave with their peers. Adults moderate their reactions to children's negative behaviour and respond strongly when they do something well. This is how we reinforce the behaviour we want to see.

Her peers are just as involved in shaping her behaviour. If she doesn't have much interaction with others her age, she is missing this.

It is sometimes hard for children to form social groups and explore their local area in Hong Kong. Some high-rise buildings do have a protected play area, where bikes can be ridden and ball games played, but they are few. Because of this, you need to help her form and maintain playgroups.

Depending on her age you will need to help her learn more about playing with others. Offering to take other children out for activities will give your daughter time to develop more of these skills. Offer them unstructured time in a playground or on a beach. This encourages the children to develop and share a scenario of their own making.

Free time in her bedroom, learning to share toys and teaching others how to handle them properly, will help her become more open. Stay close by or within earshot so you can offer support. Don't oversee every activity. Sometimes the consequences of her behaviour will be made clear to her by others' reactions. Even though it may be upsetting, try to help her see what she did that brought it on.

There may be tears as she struggles to understand that others are not thinking the same way as her. Talk it through and help her to see the other child's perspective. If the other child offers to back down and do things your daughter's way, point out the kindness of the act and remind her to let them choose next time. Help her to learn the importance of reciprocity.

Even in homes with older and younger siblings these negotiation skills take time.

If your helper regularly oversees her, you will need her to understand when to intervene and when not to.

Too many children expect adults to solve all their problems. This interferes with their understanding of the world and others. They need to explore cause and effect in social situations. Explain to your helper how to talk to your daughter about the other child's view or what she did to create the situation, rather than just jumping in to solve it.

There are also clubs and groups. Exploring activities will give her more social interaction. Help her to accept that not everyone does things the way she wants. She will probably be drawn to the social interaction in fun activities and will moderate her own behaviour and grow socially.

Kris Gienger teaches at a Hong Kong international primary school