Learning to successfully interact with others is one of the most important aspects of a child’s development. And when it comes to building relationships, you are your child's first teacher.
Set a good example
Remember that you are setting the example that your child will follow, and if you are aware of your own behavior, you will be better prepared to help your child deal with his or her emotions, relationships, and interactions. When your child sees you being patient, kind, honest, and empathetic with him and others, but also speaking up for yourself when necessary, he is provided with a blueprint of proper social behavior. In particular, think about how you “play with others” when you are with your child. If you are with a group of other parents and you are all on your electronic devices, your child will see this as acceptable behavior. Let your child see you interacting with your peers in cooperative ways.
Teach your child the art of conversation
You are boosting your child’s relationship-building skills and providing her with lessons on how to listen and join in conversations through your verbal exchanges. Ask questions about things that matter to her and take a moment to really listen to the response. Pay attention to the nonverbal cues that you are modeling.
Talk to your child about friends
Try talking to him about his friends, and discuss his experiences with peers in a pleasant, conversational way. For example, you can ask him, “Did you make any new friends at school?” or “Did you share your toys with your friend Freddy today?” or “Why did you get upset with your sister? How do you think that made her feel?” Don’t expect a lot of great answers, but do look for gradual improvement in the connections of your questions and his answers, as well as the length of his answers.
Help your child manage conflict
It may be challenging for you not to step in immediately and try to make everything better for your child, but this can harm their ability to find solutions for themselves. Instead, work with your child to find a solution to problems they may be having. Watch how your child handles difficult moments with their peers and try to wait to step in until you see things might not be going well. Sometime shortly after, even at bedtime, help your child review those situations and work their way through a problem with your guidance. Ask questions about what your child thinks they could do in this situation if it happens again, and what the consequences of their particular action will be. You may also want to use puppets or stuffed animals to act out conflicts that your child may be having, like struggling to share a toy with a classmate, or knowing what to say when someone is mean to him or her on the playground.
To learn more about relationship skills for your child, check out our pre-K relationship skills page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Michele Borba, Author and Educational Psychologist.