Talk with me...about friends and feelings.

For speech pathology week we have been following the theme "Talk with me". Talking with kids is not just important for language and learning, it is vital for social and emotional development too. Here are some things that families can do to help children develop these skills:

1. Help your child learn how to talk about their feelings. Let your child know that it is okay to be sad or angry and that this happens to everyone at times. Watch your child's behaviour and give them a word for the way they are feeling. Link it to their experiences. "I can see you feel angry that your sister broke your car". Talk about your own feelings openly too when appropriate so they can see that talking helps people manage their feelings.

2. Give your child opportunities to play with others. Children these days have less opportunities to play unsupervised with friends and neighbors. It is important that parents make time to provide their child with opportunities to play with others. Structured activities such as sports and clubs are good but include less structured activities such as play dates, or a picnic in the park with other families so that children learn to play spontaneously, negotiate and problem solve.

3. Model appropriate social behaviours for your child. Allow your child to see you managing feelings and social situations well. Think out loud about how you are managing your feelings, "I am angry about the errors in this electricity account, but I will ring them and speak calmly about it". Explain your reasoning around social interactions "It is a lot of work to have Aunt June over for dinner but she really likes to have some time out of the nursing home".

4. Allow your child the chance to make age-appropriate choices. Allowing your children to make decisions some of the time (such as whether to do the the park or the beach) means that they will have a sense of control and be more likely to behave in an appropriate way and be accepting of times when they are not able to make a decision (such as going to the dentist). Choices also help to learn about consequences of decisions, such as choosing the beach on a cold day may mean no swimming.

5. Develop your child's confidence. Confident children tend to relate in a more positive way to others. Give your child honest feedback about their efforts and successes, encourage them to try and let them know that everyone makes mistakes at times. Focus on effort rather than outcome. Talk about trying hard, not giving up, having a go; as these are things we all can do; rather than being clever, good at sport or art, or other things that seem set and unchangeable, which may make your child think that they don't need to try or that they will never succeed.

6. Develop your child's problem solving skills. Don't jump in and fix everything for them straight away. Ask questions, discuss and describe the problem and help them think of solutions.Talk through together the likely outcome of each solution and help them choose the best option.

7. Allow your child to practice social skills in real situations. Teach your child how to answer the phone, ask for directions in the shopping centre, order a drink at the cafe and then let them have a try at doing it. Let them know what they did well and what to try differently next time and encourage them for having a go.

8. Provide your child with opportunities to talk about their friends with you. Listen actively and show genuine interest. Make sure they feel comfortable to come to you with any concerns they may have. Try to be open minded and non-judgmental about minor things and help your child problem solve themselves, that way they are more likely to trust you if a major issue that needs adult intervention occurs.

If your child has needs extra help making friends or playing with others some things that you can try include:

  1. Offering a range of age appropriate toys and activities. If your child has very specific and limited interests try offering some things that are similar to what your child enjoys but perhaps are also things that other children may enjoy. For example if your child is fascinated with garbage trucks try introducing garbage trucks and also diggers and dump trucks into the sand pit. Later introduce a child who enjoys this type of play to play alongside or with your child.
  2. Encouraging your child to imitate actions with objects. Expand your child’s actions by copying them then adding an extra action to the sequence and see if they will copy you. Then involve another child such as a sibling, copy the other child and encourage your child to do the same.
  3. Talking about your child’s play by acting as a narrator. “Look teddy is eating his tea, he likes that food, now he is getting full”. Include another child and talk about what they are doing also to help draw your child's attention to the other child's actions.
  4. Providing opportunities to play with children of a similar developmental level, who also have some shared interests. You may need to play with them initially to support and cue your child.
  5. Developing your child's ability to take turns. Initially play games with short simple turns, such as rolling a ball or car back and forth or taking turns to put a piece in a puzzle or shape sorter. Introduce another child into these simple activities initially, "let's do the puzzle, together with Jack". Gradually move to more open ended and less structured activities. You may need to use visual cues, hand over hand support, verbal cues and gestures to cue your child's turns to start with. Gradually remove these cues and wait for your child to respond.

Remember to set your child up for success in playing with others. This may mean:

  1. Keeping play sessions short initially, watching for signs when your child has had enough and offering a solitary activity for each child to give your child a break when they need it.
  2. Supervising closely while children are playing together to manage any problem behaviours.
  3. Discussing with the other child's parent that your child finds playing with others tricky and that they may need some extra help and support. You may do this with the other child too if it is appropriate for their age and maturity level.
  4. Removing any very special toys that your child has that they may not like other children to touch, prior to the play session to avoid conflicts.
  5. Carefully selecting play partners initially. Same age peers with similar interests can be good, however some children may respond better to slightly older children (who are more patient and understanding) or slightly younger children (who are closer to their developmental level) if they are socially immature.

Does your child need extra help with social skills. The team at Talking Matters offers the “What’s the Buzz?” program to school aged children, to help develop social skills. We also have a play skills program for preschool aged children. If you think this program would benefit your child find out more here.

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