Although school can often seem to focus almost exclusively on academic content, a huge part of education is also about learning to build relationships with many different kinds of people. Being able to interact and communicate with people is a huge part of any career, and the holiday season offers a great opportunity for widening your child’s social sphere.
Although it may seem instinctual, kids need to learn how to adapt to many social situations. Rather than just leaving your child’s social development up to chance, you can take deliberate action to help your child become a social butterfly. This holiday season, encourage your child to talk to every family member at a family gathering. One of my friends recently remarked that he had heard his 18-year-old cousin’s voice for the first time after 18 years of family gatherings. Make your social expectations for your child deliberate so that a situation like that doesn’t happen in your family. One way to make sure your child talks to everyone is to have him thank everyone who gives him a present. If your child is easily stressed out by social situations, try offering a script. “Thank you for the gift, (insert relative’s name here). It was very thoughtful of you” might be one example. Some children won’t need that kind of prompting, but they may need a reminder to actually thank everyone. This attention to both social interaction and gratitude will serve your child well throughout life.
In my family, my parents always put me in charge of handing out gifts to other relatives. This forced me to approach people that I may not have otherwise, and it provided a great conversation starter. “Merry (insert holiday of your choice), (insert relative’s name)!” is an easy icebreaker, but remind your child not to run away immediately after saying it. For a little moral support, try going along with her, but don’t take charge of the situation.
Another way to help prompt your child’s social interactions is not to sit next to her. At parties, many kids end up clinging to their parents for the duration, but purposefully setting up some distance can help to get your child engaged with others. Even if you only leave one chair between you and your child, you’ll still be opening up room for someone else to strike up a conversation. Of course, you want to be sure that your child can manage without you being right next to them. While a little uneasiness at not being next to Mom or Dad is okay, you don’t want your child to be disruptive at the party because of it. Use your best judgment!
If you’re hosting a party, try putting your child in charge of something. Whether it’s showing guests where to put their coats or greeting them at the door, by having your child be part of the hosting experience you’ll be teaching him valuable lessons about how to interact with guests. Help your child feel involved right from the start by doing anything from helping to send out invitations and make out place cards to setting the table and assisting in food preparation. If your child already feels invested in the party, he’ll be more likely to be involved as the party is going on. This can also be a great conversation starter, as guests can comment on the food or the decorations and your child can take credit.
As for conversation starters, what better way to strike up discussion than a fun game? My family personally enjoys Jenga or LCR, but almost any game will do. Games can often help children to relax, so make sure your child is familiar with the rules before pulling it out a party to reduce stress.
What are other ways you’ve found to help your child build social skills around the holiday season?