It is so important to give your child(ren) attention and positive interaction. Playing is a lot of fun, but it can also be an opportunity to praise positive behaviors. I’m not of the opinion that you should work on social skills every single time you play with your child – that sounds exhausting! And by “practicing,” I don’t mean that you have to do anything special; all you have to do is praise them for the skills you see (and maybe prompt them to use those skills if they don’t on their own). Taking some time every now and then to praise your child for positive behaviors can be beneficial in getting them to use those skills with classmates and peers. Here are some skills that you can praise while playing a game with your child, whether it’s a board game, a puzzle, Legos, or cars.
- Taking turns – seems simple enough, but a lot of children struggle with taking turns. Praise your child when they are able to take turns with you. You can also prompt them by asking “whose turn is it?” and praising when they identify that it’s not their turn.
- Saying “please” and “thank you” – while playing, there are sure to be lots of opportunities to say “please” and “thank you.” Maybe you passed a game piece to your child or they wanted the car that you were playing with. If your child doesn’t say “please” and “thank you” on their own, you can prompt them, then praise them for using good manners. You can also model good manners by saying “please” and “thank you” yourself.
- Good sportsmanship – this one can be a little more difficult for some kiddos. Some children really have a tough time losing. The expectation should be that your child can say something along the lines of “congratulations” or “good job” when they lose, and something like “better luck next time” or “good job” when they win. If you need a rationale for this skill, here’s a big one: if your child can be a good sport, their friends are more likely to want to play with them.
- Asking for help appropriately – when your child needs help moving something or putting pieces together, they should be able to ask you politely for help (saying “help please” is easy enough for most toddlers and preschoolers to say). Praise your child when they appropriately ask for help (and for saying “thank you” after you help them.
- Concentration/Focus/Sitting Still – again, this one can be really hard for some kids. Honestly, with some, you’re going to feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. But practice helps, even if it’s short practice! Praise your kid with something like, “you’re doing such a great job staying focused” or “I’m so proud of you for sitting so still.” Why is this so important? It is imperative that your child is able to sit still and focus while in school; if you practice with them when they’re young it’ll likely be easier for them once they are in school.
- Sharing – praise your kiddo when they are able to share, especially if it’s a toy they really like. They’re so much more likely to be able to make and keep friends if they can easily share with others.