Ages and Stages: Getting Along with Others
From following rules to getting along with other people, social skills and emotional development are key to school readiness. Learning social skills begins in infancy, laying the foundation for the self-awareness and self-control that help children succeed throughout life. How can you help your baby, toddler or preschool child develop skills to boost self-confidence, manage their emotions and cooperate with others?
Ages 0–12 Months: Through bonding with parents, infants learn basic trust of other people, according to child development expert Erik Erikson. To help a baby feel secure, actively engaging with him from the start is important. Holding your baby; talking, reading, and singing to her; smiling and playing games like peek-a-boo; and quickly responding to her needs lets your infant know she is important to you. In the first three months, most babies begin to smile, recognize and be comforted by caregivers, and respond to touch and tone of voice. By 6 months, babies may understand their own names, laugh, and play simple games.
From 6 to 12 months of age, babies express a variety of emotions. They show preferences for certain people, respond to language and gestures, and may show anxiety when separated from caregivers. At this stage, babies imitate and take action with other people, such as holding a foot out to put on a shoe. Praising your baby and acknowledging his feelings, even when he doesn’t understand all of your words, can help him feel understood and increase self-esteem and trust.
Ages 1–3 Years: Toddlers rapidly gain deeper awareness of themselves and other people. From 12 to 24 months, children play by themselves or start games with caregivers, assert themselves and express strong emotions with others (including affection), take pride in doing something themselves, and express pleasure and displeasure (including beginning to say, “No!”). At this stage, children become expert imitators of adult behavior and begin to follow simple directions, such as putting a sock in the hamper. Between ages 2 and 3, children become more aware of their own feelings and those of other people. They may struggle with managing emotions and may be aggressive, fearful or moody. Through “parallel play,” they enjoy playing next to other children if not with them, and participate in activities, such as group singing.
To help toddlers develop social skills, set clear expectations and be consistent with praise for desired behavior or consequences for undesired behavior (e.g., leaving the park when your child hits another child). Teach empathy by asking her to identify feelings: “How did that boy feel when he lost his truck?”
Ages 3–5 Years: During preschool, the ability to listen to others, follow directions and rules, take turns, share toys, and play cooperatively grows. At this stage, most children become more interested in others, develop friendships, and explore ideas about fairness and differences. Preschoolers become better at regulating feelings and can express frustration with better control. Curious and interested in other people, preschoolers compare themselves to others; many enjoy mastering a challenge, from running faster to identifying letters.To help your preschooler develop social skills, use family dinner as a time to take turns talking and listening about each person’s day. Teach and model good manners, saying “please” and “thank you.” Demonstrate courteous behavior, such as holding doors for others, and make a point of noticing when your child is especially kind. Help your child practice following directions at home by assigning simple tasks to help with cleaning or cooking, and note a job well done!
Building Social Skills Through Bonding : Research by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth found that early bonding shapes social skills. When a baby feels protected by a caregiver who is sensitive, predictable, and responsive to his emotional and physical needs, it helps him trust others — impacting relationships later in life.
Skills That Kids Need to Succeed: According to a 20-year Vanderbilt University study of 8,000 teachers, social skills play a big role in school success. These include following steps and rules, ignoring distractions, asking for help, taking turns, getting along, being nice, staying calm with others and taking responsibility for your own behavior.