How Do I Teach My Kid Social Skills?

I have a 6-year old who doesn’t want to be friendly to other kids. How can I help her?

MOLLY: We received this question from a reader who also mentioned that as her daughter is getting a little older, she is starting to arrive at a point where other kids don’t want to be her friend. Should she stand back and let her daughter be who she is, and if she doesn’t want to say “Hi” or be social, let her be that way? How does she teach her daughter how to behave in a socially-acceptable manner if it’s not in her nature?

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): When I think about a child and her own nature, I think about things that are different than what this mother is describing. I think about if the child is introverted or extroverted. Those kinds of things children are born with.

Social behaviors are not necessarily innate. There are certain social cues that go on in life that you really have to help your child with because they don’t come by it naturally. For example, you teach little kids to greet people by saying, “Hello. How are you?” You teach them how to shake hands with people while looking them in the eye. You teach them social graces that will hold them in good stead, really, all of their lives. Practicing these behaviors will make their lives easier.  For this child, it’s much harder if she’s not inclined to do this. However you still have to teach her to do it.

MOLLY: What if you teach her and she still doesn’t do it?

MOM: There isn’t much you can do about that.

MOLLY: Should you make consequences for your kids if they don’t say “Hi” when other kids say “Hi”?

MOM: Well, you can talk to her about the natural consequence of not speaking to friends when they talk to you: they won’t want to be friends with you. And most kids want to have friends on some level… some more intensely than others.

The fact is that the natural consequence of not having good social behavior is that you’ll end up alone and lonely.

MOLLY: If a 6-year old says, “I don’t really care if I have friends”. Do they even know what that really means?

MOM: I don’t believe that they know what that signifies. They probably learned along the way to say “I don’t care,” but I wouldn’t believe that. Human beings are social beings and you want to help your child learn social skills, especially when they don’t come naturally.

MOLLY: So you shouldn’t say, “Fine, you’re not going to have any friends!”

MOM: Right, you can say that you can see that it will be upsetting that she will not have friends if she doesn’t do some of these social niceties that she’s resisting doing.

MOLLY: And then should you practice doing them?

MOM: Yes! When your sister’s kids were younger, I taught them how to shake hands and look people in the eye. (I think their Mom worked with them on this, too). I would practice shaking hands with them and emphasize to them that they also have to look the person in the eye when they do it. And now it feels very natural and comfortable for them. But they didn’t automatically  know how to do that before; kids are not born with that kind of knowledge.

Experience this? Comment below if you have tried this or other methods to help your socialize your child. Or, Contact US if you have a parenting issue you would like to see addressed.

ding 5 comments on “How Do I Teach My Kid Social Skills?

  1. Your comment concerning whether a child is born an introvert or extrovert is important to remember. Children who are introverts often need assistance in learning social skills. Role playing is a great way to teach them. Also, they are watching us and will learn skills through observation so we need to be worthy role models.
    For a related article, “The Shy Child,” click below for a direct link:–.html

  2. So sorry, please try the link again:
    Your comment concerning whether a child is born an introvert or extrovert is important to remember. Children who are introverts often need assistance in learning social skills. Role playing is a great way to teach them. Also, they are watching us and will learn skills through observation so we need to be worthy role models.
    For a related article, “The Shy Child,” click below for a direct link:

  3. My grandson is 6.5 and seems, for the most part, to have good social skills with his friends (with some exceptions) is bullying his little brother in my opinion. It happens consistently, as they compete for my attention or the attention of their parents. The younger one (3.5 years) seems to know much more about how to do things in a more acceptable way and has clearly connected the dots……. realizing that honey works better than vinegar. The older one hits the younger one a lot, in spite of having been told and disciplined with time out, etc. by the adults in his life. The younger one is strong and hits back but there is a huge difference in size and partly I think the older one doesn’t realize that his strength and size mean he is sometimes really hurting the little one. I have explained this many times, and I have seen his parents explain it many times, as well as discipline him with time out (usually the ‘go to your room’ version of time out, which he hates). The problem is not improving with time, it is getting worse. I finally told the younger one to look his brother straight in the eye and tell him, each and every time, “you really hurt me” and then to tell an adult. So, he does just that, but now his big brother just calls him a ‘liar’ or says he is lying, sometimes when it is obvious to all that he is indeed telling the truth. Very frustrating. The older one, by the way, gets full colours for his behaviour and his accomplishments at school and in sports. His little brother seems to be his main or only source of venting his frustrations with whatever is bothering him. He seems to be very attached to his mother, and has problems with sleepovers (anywhere, not just with us, his grandparents, but anywhere he goes for a sleepover, even one that he has asked for — he starts crying for his mother, and that is improving it seems, she can talk him through it on the phone, at least when he is at our place, but I’m not so sure it works when he is on a sleepover at a friend’s place. He is a very, very intelligent child by the way, and very athletic, and I love him a lot and just want to help him deal with whatever seems to be bothering him so much inside. A few times, he has said in front of me, that he ‘hates’ his little brother, and recently I challenged him on that noting that I had heard him say before that he loves his little brother and everyone in his family, so I didn’t believe him when he used that word in reference to his little brother, and I said “in fact, I do think you love him” to which, he replied, for a first time in the recent past “well, kind of, I guess”. Some progress has therefore been made and I want to help him more as I think his behaviour is hurting himself more than anyone else. He challenged that his little brother hates him, to which I said, I know that is wrong, I know he loves you, as he tells me all the time that he loves you…….let’s go and ask him right now (this is 5 minutes after he had punched his little brother)……… the little brother was asked “do you love xxx (brother’s name)?” to which the little one replied “yes, yes I do!”

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your story Eva. I think this is very common and we should address it in a future blog post.

  5. My grandson, as it turns out, is gradually improving in his behaviour towards his brother. Future blog?? This one is about teaching social skills, and it fits perfectly, for all of the same reasons discussed above. My daughter and her husband have worked very hard on his social skills …… in spite of his incredibly high IQ (it is very obvious!) his social skills were not developing as quickly as his little brother’s. He started to learn that hitting ‘doesn’t fly’ with anyone, not his parents, not with his friends and not with his grandparents. And they taught him kindly, but firmly — neither he nor his brother, are allowed to leave the table at dinner until they have asked at least one question of whomever else is there — a question such as ‘how was your day?’ and that simple measure, I think had gone a long way. He is a little introverted but not particularly and he is a little shy but still he needed to learn and he is learning!

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