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Preparing Kids for School Success With Children’s Social Skills

Updated: May 30

Starting school is a monumental milestone in your child's life, and it's not just about academics. Beyond the academic aspects, it's also an opportunity for them to develop crucial social skills.



children's social skills

In this blog, we'll explore the world of children's social skills development, from the building blocks necessary to develop social skills to identifying potential difficulties and ways to support and nurture your child's social growth. We'll explore strategies to help your child transition smoothly into school life and nurture their social development, including the "my turn, your turn" concept, understanding developmental levels, and tips for supporting your child's progress in play.


Understanding Children's Social Skills

What Are Social Skills?

Children's social skills encompass a wide range of behaviours and abilities that enable them to interact, communicate, and collaborate effectively with others.

preparing kids for school

These skills include:

  • Cooperation and Sharing: The ability to share toys, take turns, and work together with peers.

  • Expressive and Receptive Language: The capacity to communicate thoughts and feelings clearly and understand the same from others.

  • Play Skills: Engaging in various types of play, from sensory exploration to imaginative and pretend play.

  • Self-Regulation: Managing emotions, behavior, and attention.

  • Executive Functioning: Organizing thoughts and actions, planning, problem-solving, and flexible thinking.

  • Planning and Sequencing: Arranging activities in a logical order, following instructions, and adapting to changes.


Why Are Social Skills Important?

Developing strong children's social skills is vital for various reasons:

  • Peer Relationships: Social skills are the foundation of healthy friendships and interactions with peers.

  • Academic Success: Children with developed social skills often perform better academically, as they can engage with teachers and classmates effectively.

  • Emotional Regulation: Social skills help children manage emotions, reducing emotional outbursts and increasing self-control.

  • Conflict Resolution: Strong social skills allow children to resolve conflicts peacefully and avoid aggressive behaviour.

  • Life Skills: These skills are essential for success in later life, from personal relationships to the workplace.



school readiness


Building Blocks of Social Skills

To develop children's social skills effectively, it's crucial to understand the building blocks necessary for their growth. These building blocks include:

  • Attention and Concentration: The ability to focus on tasks, follow instructions, and pay attention to others during interactions.

  • Receptive (Understanding) Language: Understanding verbal and non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions.

  • Expressive (Using) Language: Communicating thoughts, emotions, and needs effectively.

  • Play Skills: Engaging in various forms of play, from sensory exploration to imaginative and pretend play.

  • Pre-Language Skills: Building the foundations for language, such as vocalising, babbling, and imitating sounds.

  • Self-Regulation: Managing emotions, behaviour, and attention during social interactions.

  • Executive Functioning: Developing skills related to planning, organisation, problem-solving, and flexible thinking.

  • Planning and Sequencing: Arranging activities in a logical order, following instructions, and adapting to changes.



collaborative play


Identifying Social Skills Difficulties

You may wonder how to tell if your child is facing challenges with their children's social skills. Look out for these signs:

  • Difficulty Making Friends: Your child may struggle to make and keep friends, frequently experiencing conflicts or rejection.

  • Limited Eye Contact: Avoiding eye contact can be a sign of discomfort in social situations.

  • Ineffective Communication: Your child may have trouble expressing themselves clearly or understanding others.

  • Isolation: A reluctance to participate in social activities or playing alone for extended periods.

  • Tantrums or Aggression: Difficulty managing emotions during interactions may lead to aggressive behaviour.

  • Lack of Empathy: An inability to understand or respond to others' feelings.


social skill difficulties

Addressing Social Skill Difficulties

If you notice difficulties with children's social skills in your child, it's crucial to take action. Addressing these challenges can lead to significant improvements in

sensory play

their social development. Seeking therapy with a paediatric occupational therapist can be a highly effective approach. Therapy sessions are tailored to your child's specific needs and may include various strategies, exercises, and activities to enhance social skills.


Activities to Improve Social Skills

Wondering how you can help your child improve their social skills at home? Here are some activities to consider:

  • Playdates: Arrange playdates with peers to expose your child to different play styles and social dynamics, encouraging sharing, empathy, and cooperation.

  • Narrate Play: When playing together, describe what you're doing, thinking, and feeling. This helps your child develop language skills and learn about emotions and perspective-taking.

  • Model Social Skills: Be a role model for positive social interactions. Demonstrate sharing, taking turns, and using kind words in your everyday interactions.

  • Join Play: Spend time observing your child's play, and once you understand their interests and abilities, join in and gently guide the play towards more complex interactions.


paediatric occupational therapist gold coast

1. My Turn, Your Turn: Teaching Cooperative Play

One of the fundamental social skills kids need is learning to share and take turns. The "my turn, your turn" concept lays the foundation for cooperation. Practice this at home with games, puzzles, or toys, emphasising the importance of waiting for their turn. This can be done through giving a verbal prompt and a gesture of tapping your chest for my turn and pointing to your child and providing a verbal prompt for your turn. Gradually, your child will understand the value of sharing and cooperation, and your prompting will reduce as they will be able to do this independently. When playing a game, to check on their development of this skill it can be helpful to ask “Who’s turn are we up to?” confused to see if they automatically go to take the turn or remember it is your go and they are waiting for you.

2. Developmental Levels: Sensory Exploration vs. Pretend Play

Understanding your child's developmental stage is crucial in fostering their social skills. Younger children often engage in sensory exploration, using their senses to understand the world around them. As they grow and develop their social skills, they transition into imaginative and pretend play. Targeting play well and above where your child is at will lead to them disengaging as it is above their play level. Recognise where your child falls on this developmental spectrum and provide appropriate activities that align with their level.

For example:

Sensory Exploration In Pretend Play

Coloured Rice Sensory Bin:

  • Make sensory rice (or purchase one of our kits!) Add scoops, cups, and small toys for children to explore and manipulate.


pretend play

Kitchen Corner:

  • Create a pretend kitchen using old cardboard boxes, empty food containers, and play dishes. Children can cook, serve, and have tea parties in their imaginary kitchen. Encourage them to use their creativity and explore different "recipes."


3. Supporting Developmental Progress: Tips for Parents

  • Observe and Join: Spend time observing your child's play. Once you understand their interests and abilities, join in and gently guide the play towards more complex interactions. The focus is allowing your child to lead the play and then every now and then provide an idea on how to expand it. If they reject the idea, that’s ok, continue to go along with their play and then maybe suggest an idea later on. For example, your child is feeding dolly and then maybe you suggest your doll is tired and where can she go to sleep, or pretending to have a picnic and you pretend one of the characters got injured and what are we going to do?

  • Provide Varied Materials: Offer a wide range of toys and materials to encourage different types of play. Include sensory items, building blocks, imaginative play toys, and art supplies to cater to their evolving

sensory materials

interests. It is important our kids can see a range of play ideas but we also want to encourage them to use objects for different meanings e.g. a box could be the teddy’s bed, a table for dinner, the car to go to the park etc.


  • Set Up Playdates: Arrange playdates with peers to expose your child to different play styles and social dynamics. Encourage sharing, empathy, and cooperation during these interactions. Children often find playing with adults a lot easier as we are more predictable and can negotiate play with them however peers are less predictable and require more negotiation and sharing the control of the play.

  • Narrate Play: When playing together, describe what you're doing, thinking, and feeling. This helps your child develop language skills and learn about emotions and perspective-taking.

  • Model Social Skills: Be a role model for positive social interactions. Demonstrate sharing, taking turns, and using kind words in your everyday interactions.

4. Progressing from Parallel Play to Collaborative Play

Many children start with parallel play, where they play alongside but not directly with others. This allows them to have full control of their play and what is happening. Gradually, they move towards cooperative play, where they actively engage together. Encourage this transition by arranging group activities and cooperative games. Praise their efforts and celebrate milestones in their social development.


occupational therapy

Starting school is not just about academics; it's also an opportunity for your child to develop vital social skills. By practicing the "my turn, your turn" concept, understanding developmental levels, and following these tips, you can support your child's journey towards becoming a confident and socially adept school-goer. Remember, every child is unique, so be patient, celebrate their progress, and enjoy the incredible journey of watching them grow.


Why Seek Therapy for Social Skills?

Therapy can offer invaluable support in enhancing your child's social skills:

  • Professional Assessment: A paediatric occupational therapist can assess your child's specific strengths and challenges and create a tailored plan for improvement.

  • Specialised Strategies: Therapists use evidence-based strategies to address social skill difficulties effectively.

  • Structured Environment: Therapy sessions provide a structured, supportive setting for your child to work on their social skills.

  • Improved Relationships: As your child's social skills improve, they can form healthier friendships and build more positive relationships with peers.

  • Confidence Building: Enhancing social skills can boost your child's self-esteem and confidence, which can have a positive impact on various aspects of their life.


getting ready to start school

Nurturing your child's social skills is an essential part of their school readiness. By understanding the building blocks necessary for social skill development, recognising potential challenges, and seeking professional therapy if needed, you can help your child become a socially confident and adept school-goer. Every child is unique, so be patient, celebrate their progress, and enjoy the incredible journey of watching them grow.


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