Thursday, November 3, 2011

Parent Education: Social Coaching Tips

Making friends in an important part of life! Some kids naturally make friends with everyone, while other kids need to learn some strategies and need to be coached along the way.

I attended a Parent Education night for my son's preschool a few weeks ago and I loved many of the things that were shared about making friends and social coaching. Sue Dinwiddie, a former Head teacher from Stanford University's Bing Preschool, was the presenter.

Social coaching is an important thing for parents to learn about! Oftentimes children are thrown into scenarios where they have the opportunity to make new friends. Many children don't have the tools to navigate this social world and don't take advantage of these opportunities.

Have you ever gone to an event and then thought as you left, "Well that was a waste of time, _______ just played by himself the whole time... He didn't play with any friends. We could've just stay home." 

I totally have.

Sue shared some simple tips to help parents coach children in social settings and help them move from the solitary play mode (or playing with adults mode) to playing cooperatively with other children.

Here are 6 helpful tips for coaching your kids to play with other kids...

1. Help your child observe games being played amongst friends and notice rules. 

If the children are role playing, observe the roles that each child has assumed. Point them out to your child. Help your child decide what role he/she could play.

For example. saying, "Do you see John and Sarah are playing superheroes. It looks like John is Batman and Sarah is Superman. They are taking turns jumping off the bench. What character could you be? What could you do?"

2. Approach friends (or new children) with your child. 

Ask if you can play. They most likely won't say no to an adult, right? Play with the group alongside your child for awhile and model for your child how to participate. Next time, prompt your child to ask if they can play.

3. Point out common interests/likes amongst the children. 

Be a little friend matchmaker. Help them notice their friend's similarities... sometimes little kids can be very oblivious.

4. Serve as a bridge between the children. 

For example, you could start building a tower with blocks. Invite each child to take turns adding on to the tower... all of a sudden they've gone from complete solitary play to moving towards cooperative play!

5. Gradually recede into the background once the children start interacting with one another. 

It is important to learn when to back off!

6. Give your child lots of opportunities for success by finding many ways for them to interact with peers. 

I find that as I set up varied opportunities weekly for my kids to interact with peers (1:1 playdates, small group playgroups, large group parties/preschool groups, meeting new friends at the park, etc.), they are more comfortable playing cooperatively and initiating play with new children.


  1. This is so great! Thanks a million! I've been looking for mom blogs that give me ideas on how to play and teach my toddler who turns 2 in December. Its been a little bit of a struggle.

  2. I would add play pretend with them yourself too. You can model meeting a new friend and practice, make it fun!

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  4. I find small groups of kids with caring parents around are a great time for learning about (and coaching about) apologies and making amends too. I don't mean the forced "Say you're sorry!" but rather teaching children the process of realizing they can make a mistake (say, hitting or pushing someone) yet they can go back and try to make things right.
    Obviously no situation goes perfectly on script, but this is how we usually approach this:
    Oh, it looks like Jane is really upset, see her face and how she's crying? She is hurting.
    You can say, "I'm sorry."
    (Maybe the child says I'm sorry)
    Can you find a way to make amends? You can ask Jane, "Is there something I can do to make you feel better?"
    (Jane may or may not think of anything. At this point we still might think of a couple things like bringing a toy over, giving a hug etc. and we can as hurt child if they want the toy or a hug. If not we can just let our child know that their friend just needs a little space.)

    Not sure if I explained that too well, but it's just the gist of it :)

  5. Alissa- I totally agree. I loved your examples. It is always nice to hear how other parents handle things.

    Joy- Practicing together is a great way to work on building friendships. I need to do that more often with my little guy.

    Love & Tangles- Thanks for stopping by! Parenting is hard work! That is great that you are looking for ideas on how to play with your toddler. There are so many fun things to do. I am always discovering new things and love the blogging networks!

  6. Great points! It gives me some ideas for our group of preschoolers...

  7. Love this post. I've heard wonderful things about Bing. I'd second pretend play, modeling behavior is huge and throw in allowing children to work through challenges with one another rather than jumping in immediately (conflict resolution is a skill lacking in many of us!).

  8. This is great. You might also like "Treat Toddlers as if THey are Scientists and Skip the "Terrible Two's"’s/

  9. Great tips in here, really helpful ideas. I think a big one is to never insist that the child must say hi or must join in the play but let them take the time to warm up and join in when they feel ready to do so. I find that children will join in sooner if we wait than if we insist. Also keeping expectations low because many children, particularly younger tots prefer to play by other children but not necessarily cooperatively!

  10. What a great post! Helping a child go in with confidence is a huge part of socializing and the tips you give do exactly that. Thank you for posting this article!


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