Blog 3

Helping Children Build Social Skills

Blog by Sabina Veronelli


Many years working with children we have observed how behaviour that is not acceptable is often a child's attempt to meet a legitimate need in an unskilled way. This may happen, for example, when a child is making an unskilled attempt at connecting with other children.

Young children often do not know how to enter play, how to express their interest, how to make friends. At times they seem to think that annoying someone is a good way to get to connect. For example, a child may repetitively take the hat off the head of the friend she would like to play with or steal the toy that is taking the attention of a friend she would like to connect with or even poke or throw sand.

When this happens, we can redirect children’s actions towards a way to positively, and playfully, connect. In other words, we can use playfulness to support children in building social skills. Most times this strategy can be implemented looking at the movements and actions a child is doing, and finding a way to use them for a positive connection.

Let’s see an example.

Jean, a 3-year old girl, at times does things that can be quite annoying - for example showing interest for a toy only if another child wants to play with it, and losing interest as soon as she can play with it herself. We have noticed it seems to happen whenever she wants to connect with somebody, or to join their play.

One day, as Jean was about to take a child’s hat off his head for the second time, her educator stepped in and said: "Oh, it looks like you want Jack’s attention, let’s give him a Hi Five!’.

The educator gave Jack a Hi Five, then Jean did the same. Jack gave one back to Jean, and they continued for a while exchanging Hi Fives and laughing. After a while Jack said: "Let’s make a castle!". Jean smiled, and followed him to the sandpit, where they played together for a long time.

In this example, the ability to turn a potentially annoying interaction into connection, with a bit of playfulness, has showed Jean a strategy she may use in the future when she would like to connect.

Later on, this strategy can be reinforced putting together, with children, the story of what happened.

“Hey, Jean, do you remember this morning, when you took Jack’s hat off his head?”


”I wonder whether he liked it.”

”Yes it’s fun!”

”You like it, I see! I remember Jack moved away, though. I think if you move away it means you don’t like it. What do you think?”

”When you did the Hi Fives, he smiled, and gave it back.”

”Yes, we played Hi Fives!”

”Yes, you played Hi Fives many times! You both smiled and laughed, you were having fun together.”

”Yes”, ”Looks like doing Hi Fives is a good way to start play with Jack.”

If you would like to learn more strategies to support children, you may check out our webpage with Resources for Parents

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