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6 Vital Social Skills to Teach to Pre-School Children


In this digitally-saturated world, it is more vital than ever that educators continue to recognize and value the human interaction skills that are so important to our students' development and well being. After ten years of being emerged in ed tech (pun intended :)) and having raised three kids through this first decade of device-always-in-hand, I've become quite concerned about too much tech and not enough human, social connectivity*. This is the first of what I hope will be a longer series of occasional posts focusing on working to have a “balanced perspective” about technology and education. My thanks to guest writer Thomas J. Lovecraft for this submission. – Kelly Walsh

*I will be exploring various downsides of our digital existence in next Friday's “Cyber Savvy” webinar. Add it to your calendar and come join us (noon EST, 9/7).

There is a tendency to assume that toddlers learn social skills by playing with one another in social settings. This is, however, only part of the process. In fact, the journey begins a long time before a child gets to interact with peers.

The first social skills children learn are acquired by watching the adults around them and the role modeling of what they see. That’s why parenting is about so much more than seeing to the physical needs of a child. Prior to a child stepping into a classroom, they should have been taught several social skills.

Once children get into a classroom setting, they need to sharpen their social skills through their interactions with their teacher and their classmates. Preschool teachers need to teach social skills through play and fun.

They can use stories, songs, puppets, and games to teach kids to interact with others. This prepares them to be productive members of society later in life.

These are some of the important social skills parents should focus on, and preschool teachers will reinforce.

1. Expressing emotions

It’s vital that as soon as possible children learn to put a name to what they are feeling. It helps them to verbally express their feelings instead of turning to other methods. For example, a child should learn to verbalize that he is angry or frustrated without resorting to throwing things around or hitting other children.

The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) suggests that you teach your child to distinguish emotions like happy, sad, and angry. More complex expressions of emotion will come later.

Children must learn how to process the emotions they are feeling appropriately. Once they can put a name to the emotion, they can be taught how to cope with what they’re feeling. These are skills that are much-needed in adulthood.

2. Communication

At different stages, children need to be able to communicate at appropriate levels. For example, between 2-3 years old, a child must make eye contact with the person speaking to them. Patricia Henderson Shimm writes on www.babycenter.com that toddlers often avoid contact as a means of control.  They need to learn early on that eye contact is polite and indicates that they are listening.  They should be able to greet others and know how to take turns talking.

The complexities advance as they get older. By age 5-6 years old, a child should know how to say please, thank you, and sorry. This takes a lot of children a long time before it’s automatic. Positive role modeling is critical at this stage.

The communication skills your child acquires are essential for their integration into society. As early as possible, children need to learn the difference between polite and rude communication. They also need to distinguish between communicating with an adult and a child.

3. Listening

Listening skills are vital as without them, children cannot learn. Teaching your child listening skills is important. They are born with some listening skills, but they need to be enhanced.

One of the easiest ways to teach listening skills is to play ‘broken telephone’ or variants thereof. Whisper a word or phrase into your child’s ear and let them repeat it back. It will take a while, but you’ll get to a stage where you can get your child to listen to and repeat 3-4 sentences. JoJo Tabares, a speech communications specialist includes this strategy in her guidelines on how to stimulate listening and speaking skills.

Allowing children to engage in discussions with groups of their peers is also a way of stimulating listening skills and teaching them the value of taking turns. It’s as simple as putting them in a circle and asking them to talk about their weekend.

Some children will speak with ease, while others will feel shy. The extroverts need to learn to give the introverts a turn. And the introverts need to learn to come out of their shells enough to participate.

4. Group work

The earlier children learn to function in a group, the better they will behave in group settings when they’re older. When you’re working with very small children, the types of activities to do will focus on play.

Putting children into groups to play with toys such as blocks teaches them how to interact with others. At first, it may seem that they are playing alongside each other and not with each other. But they are absorbing the things going on around them all the time and processing them, according to kidshealth.org. Role modeling the correct behavior is essential, as it allows children to learn what is appropriate. Some children struggle with this more than others but will learn with loving, patient guidance.

Parents of an only child have an additional responsibility in this regard. They must seek out opportunities to involve their child in socializing groups so that their children get exposure to children of their own age.

In a classroom setting, children should complete group work tasks. They will learn that each group member has a job and that all the jobs need to be done to complete the task.

5. Caring

Children need to learn compassion for others from an early age. It prepares them for relationships they will have when they’re older. They need to look at someone who has fallen with sympathy and try to help them.

Children need to know that laughing when someone is in pain or feeling sad is unacceptable. This is also the time that they need to learn to treat animals with a caring approach.

Conflict management is an important part of this social skill. When children learn how to deal with conflict constructively, they will be able to do so when they are adults. Teach children that conflict is normal, provided it is dealt with appropriately. Some good tips for teaching children conflict management provide a great framework from which to work. Children should have some basic conflict resolution skills and know when to get an adult involved to help.

When children are taught conflict management skills, they should learn how to ‘fight fair.’ That means not resorting to insults and violence to resolve a conflict.

6. Non-verbal skills

Non-verbal skills are the ability to read the facial expression and body language of those around us. It also incorporates interpreting the gestures they see, the tones of voice they hear, and the posture they observe. People often say a lot more non-verbally than they do verbally.

Teach children to interpret non-verbal cues through fun activities. Put on an appropriate TV show or movie. Turn the sound off. Let the children observe the characters. Pause the playback and ask the children if they can tell you how a certain character is feeling. The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education Author, Amanda Morin, finds that this helps children learn to read social cues.

Ask them how they can tell what the character is feeling. Point out the facial expression, the gestures, and the body language the character is showing. You can also let children stand in front of the class and role play how they feel with a facial expression. Then the other children can guess what the child is feeling. They can talk about what makes them feel the same way.


Children are unique. In the same way, they have unique ways of learning social skills. Teachers should strive to distinguish the differing needs of their learners. A varied approach may be required to reach some of them. But what they all need from a teacher is reassurance that the classroom is a safe space where they are loved and valued.

If a child feels they can trust a teacher, they will confide in them if there is something wrong at home. They need to learn that respect is a two-way street. They show respect to their teacher and peers, and then they’ll receive respect in return. Teachers should learn their names and their distinct personality traits as soon as possible so that they know how to reach their learners.



  1. This is horrible. Preschoolers do not have to make eye contact to communicate. In fact, many neurodivergent people are very uncomfortable making eye contact. Forced eye contact does not help with communication skills.

  2. Thomas, I like that you said that it\’s important for toddlers to learn communication skills in pre-school so they can integrate properly into society and learn how to be polite. My husband and I are planning to have our two-year-old daughter attend classes in a toddler learning facility, so she can develop social skills at an early age. I\’ll take note of the things you mentioned in your article, and use it when I ask questions at child care centers in the city. Thanks!

  3. This is a very useful post, thank you! I agree that innovations are the most important thing for most businesses because of today’s fast-changing world we need to stay on top of the changes if we want to survive.


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