Lessons in Character: Why the Summer Months Are Great for Teaching Social Skills

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It would be great if schools had adequate time to truly teach character and social interaction skills, but often there just isn't time. Summer, as it turns out, is actually a great time to work on these critical life skills. Without the stress of school and non-stop action, kids are better able to hone these skills and process the information.

The best part about teaching social skills is that it can be a lot of fun. Whether you are working on cooperating, reciprocal conversations, empathy for others, or another skill that needs practice, relying on play and hands on learning makes social skills training fun for kids.

The best way to know what skills need honing this summer is to take a look at the past. Areas of social skills deficits tend to repeat themselves over time. Talk to your child's teacher before the end of the year, watch carefully during group play, and think back to previous play dates.

When you're ready to begin, consider these tips.

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Establish goals:

When helping young children improve their social interaction skills, it helps to tackle one small goal at a time. Building friendship skills can seem like an overwhelming task when you sit and think about all of the potential areas of growth. Breaking it down into manageable parts gives you a place to begin and an end goal to work towards.

Talk to your child about establishing social skills goals. Ask him what things are hard for him when it comes to playing with friends. Ask him what comes easily. Then go through your own list and come up with 3-4 summer goals.

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Play with your child:

Kids who play with their parents for fun have better overall social interaction skills. Resist the urge to make every moment of a play a lesson in character and follow your child's lead instead.

Children work through all kinds of issues during play. They also learn about the world around them and how to engage with others when lost in play. 

{ MORE: Unleash the ADHD: All the Great Ones Did It }

Factor in regular playtime with your child and your child will already be off to a great start toward improving peer relationships.

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Consistency helps:

Working on social skills with a familiar friend is always a good idea. When overwhelmed with new people and new places, kids tend to fall back into old habits. The safety of an established friendship gives your child a chance to work through the ups and downs of friendship without trying to build a new friendship at the same time.

Try to schedule a weekly play date with a friend who is already a good match for your child. A consistent play date with an old friend removes any social anxiety that might trigger poor social skills while giving your child a weekly time to work on skills.

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Image via Katie Hurley

Provide reminders:

Kids just want to play and have fun during their downtime. They don't necessarily think back to the time that sharing became a problem or opposite opinions ruined the play date. Talk to your child about the specific goal he's working on before an upcoming play date. Discuss things that might be done to meet the specific goal.

If sharing is a problem, for example, start by talking about what it means to share when friends are over. Ask your child to identify games and toys that are fun to share and play together, and set those toys out before the friend arrives. Then practice what to say and how to react if sharing becomes difficult (including asking for help). 

{ MORE: Preschool Readiness: What Age is the Best Age for Preschool? }

How have you helped your children build social skills?

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Lessons in Character: Why the Summer Months Are Great for Teaching Social Skills

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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