How to Build a Child’s Social Skills

When my cousin Andy was a toddler, people said he had all sorts of issues with social skills.

He didn’t listen to anyone (except maybe his mom). He rarely talked to other kids. When he did talk, he was mean and caused fights. He didn’t have any friends. He kind of lived in his own little bubble.

Andy is all grown up now and has his own kids. He still does struggle with socializing. But he’s learned a lot through the years and wants to pass that knowledge along. His goal is to teach kids how to better develop their own social skills.

Here are five social skills Andy has been teaching kids:

  • Respect others’ boundaries. “Keep your hands to yourself.” “Knock on closed doors.” “You don’t need to stand that close when talking to someone.” Other kids need their personal space. When children don’t recognize this, it can turn into a point of conflict.
  • It’s OK to be assertive, but not aggressive. Kids have a hard time expressing what they need or want. It may be that they just don’t have a deep enough vocabulary to find the words. They get frustrated easily and turn that into aggression. Help them develop a vocabulary of words to explain what they’re feeling.
  • You (yes you!) can learn to solve problems. Teach your kids that they can grow their ability to think critically. You can model how to do that—-how to come up with solutions, how to look at alternatives, or how to adapt to new circumstances.
  • Listen, actually listen, to people. When kids are young, Simon Says and musical chairs are great listening games you can play. As kids get older, model for them how to ask open-ended questions (instead of yes/no questions). Then teach them how to sit back, listen, and really take in what the other person is saying.
  • Empathy is what connects you to others. Kids must understand how their words and actions affect others. When a young child causes conflict, explain to them how the other child is feeling. “She’s feeling sad because you took her toy.” Get them out of their bubble to “feel” the feels of others.

Andy knows this advice isn’t one-size-fits-all. Every child is unique. Every child needs to develop a different set of social skills.

To help kids navigate their social interactions with success, what they need more than anything is a supportive home environment. They need adults who model positive social skills. And they need help from teachers, therapists, and other community members.

For more ideas on how to develop your children’s social skills, visit