Getting along with others, making friends, and solving conflicts are some of the most important skills children ever learn. Parents can help social development in many ways, according to research (Wittmer & Honig, 1994.) Here are some tips to encourage prosocial skills while decreasing antisocial or aggressive behaviors in your preschooler:
1. Provide peers. The first tip is to give your child the opportunity to socialize by enrolling him/her in preschool or another program with children of similar age. This is especially helpful if your child is an only or doesn’t have siblings close in age.
2. Value, model, and emphasize consideration for other’s needs. For example, “Let’s open the door for that man since his hands are full” or “I’m sending a check so we can help families that were in the hurricane.”
3. Label and identify prosocial and antisocial behaviors. Be specific – for example, “Hitting hurts people” or “Saying ‘please’ was polite”. Give attention and names to behavior you like.
4. Attribute positive social behaviors to individuals. Assume children’s actions have positive intentions. Saying something like “You are a caring friend” when your child shows interest in another’s distress, helps him/her see themselves that way. This helps children’s positive self-concept and prevent them assuming that others’ intentions are negative (common in preschoolers.)
5. Notice and encourage positive behaviors, such as altruism. Catch children being good. Remember how powerful your attention is for reinforcing behavior – especially when our comments are descriptive, specific, and focused on an action. For example, I noticed that you shared your treat with your friend. You must feel good about that”.
6. Encourage and acknowledge expression of feelings. Use emotional coaching techniques (label feelings, etc) and active listening. See www.talaris.org for more info.
7. Teach perspective taking. Role-plays and stories can help young children see how another child might feel. “What if Elena told you that she didn’t want to be your friend? How do you think you would feel?”
8. Encourage assertion without aggression. Help preschoolers learn to speak up for themselves and their needs without hurting others. Aggression includes verbal, physical, and relational (“you can’t be my friend if you don’t…”)
9. Teach social cue reading. Point out the nonverbal cues in others. “Look at Maya’s face; she looks sad,” or “Diego seems angry; see how his arms are crossed and how his eyes and face look”. Some kids do this naturally while others need to be taught how to read facial expression.