Is your child a young socialite, or does he battle loneliness? One of the best gifts you can ever give as a parent is to teach him how to get along well with others. Get the conversation started with these 15 tips to improve your child’s social skills.

Children are not born with social skills. Multiple studies concur that children learn these behaviors from birth through preschool years–and beyond. Further, children who can better read situations and responses by others enjoy stronger friendships and are less lonely. We’ll explore the habits you can instill in your child to help them develop this skillset.

15 Ways You Can Help Bolster Your Child’s Social Skills

Here are fifteen things that you can do to help ensure your child learns to interact positively with others.

1. Improve Your Social Skills

If you want your child to learn good social skills, you must have good ones yourself. Whatever social habits you model, your child will imitate. Do you socialize well with others, or could do you need to improve?

The next time you talk with friends or family, notice how engaged you are in the conversation. Are you playing an active role and mirroring the emotions of others? Are you actively listening, or are you being a wallflower?

Remember that your child is watching, and he will probably mimic you in his social situations.

2. Encourage Him to Ask Questions

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Nothing stumps a good conversation like awkward silence, especially when meeting new people. When you teach your child how to ask the right kind of questions, it will keep the conversation rolling, and his social interaction will become more natural.

Practice conversations and show him how to ask open-ended questions, which requires more than a “yes” or “no.” Instead of asking, “Do you like to play video games?” ask, “What are your favorite video games to play?” Good open-ended questions usually begin with who, what, why, when, and how.

3. Play Make-Believe Together

Playing make-believe is the earliest socializing game that children learn. Not only does it teach them empathy, but it encourages creativity and individuality. Wouldn’t childhood be filled with loneliness without the blissful Land of Make-Believe?

Stimulate your child’s imagination and play pretend with her. Maybe she is a beautiful princess that rules a land of flower fairies, or maybe she is a warrior protecting her homeland from invading goblins. Make-believing is essential to building a child’s social skills, creativity, and discovering the world around her.

4. Make Play Dates for Her

Sometimes, you hear your child mention a name or two of children from school or in her social circle. Do you take the time to talk to her about her friends? Have you ever met any of her friends or their families?

One of the best ways to teach your child good social skills is to watch her interact with peers. Meet her friends and their parents and schedule playtime for the children to build trust and friendship. You can occasionally set up virtual playdates so the kids can chat online, with supervision.

5. Explore Hobbies and Other Interests

When your child learns to pursue a passion, he will have something of interest to discuss with others. Even younger children can have favorite hobbies and things they are interested in exploring.

Talk to him about the things that make him happy or catch his interest. His only limitation is his imagination. It can be anything from reading, music, art, sports, gaming, or anything else fun. Then, he can talk to other kids with similar interests.

6. Play Socially Interactive Games

Remember the good old days before video games came on the scene? Traditional games are excellent tools for teaching children how to interact with others.

They can cultivate critical thinking and teach them the appropriate ways to take turns. Bring out some classic board games from your childhood and show the new generation how to have fun without technology.

If you and your family have an affinity for electronics, you can also find appropriate video games to play with your child. You can also set up times when she can play video games with her siblings or friends.

Video games can enhance your child’s social skills if playing is moderated and doesn’t replace playing with kids in person.

7. Adopt a Pet

If your child complains of loneliness and boredom, why not adopt a family pet? Local shelters are full of loving cats and dogs that are just waiting for a forever home. Plus, caring for a pet can offer your child lessons about responsibility, empathy, and playful interaction.

You may need to help with the new pet, depending on your child’s age. Little ones can help feed and water pets and play with them. Consider your family’s lifestyle and schedule before you commit to adopting a pet. Some pets require more care than others.

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8. Role Play to Understand Problems

What if your child is having problems socializing at school or other gatherings? Should you be forthright with your observations and tell her that she is too shy and needs to talk more? This approach may aggravate her, and she may go deeper into her shell.

Instead, approach the subject sensitively and do some role-playing. Act like you are a kid, and the two of you have just met. There may be some uncomfortable silence initially, but you can give some gentle suggestions and conversation starters.

9. Teach and Model Empathy

If you aren’t an empathetic person, you can’t expect your child to be one. Empathy is a trait that children learn from their parents and other significant adults. It’s much easier to teach your child how to feel empathy for others when he sees your example.

To teach your child how to be sensitive to other people’s feelings, ask questions like “How would you feel if that happened to you?” or “How do you think Susie felt when you made a face at her?” Allowing your child to put himself in another person’s shoes helps to teach social skills and empathy.

10. Know Your Child’s Limits

Remember that your child is an individual, and not everyone is a social butterfly. Some children are natural introverts who feel comfortable spending time alone. If your child feels awkward in a crowd, learn how to socialize in smaller groups.

Children also improve their social skills as they mature. Little ones may be done playing with each other after an hour or two, while tweens and teens can spend all day laughing and talking. Know your child’s personality and respect his limits.

11. Teach Him Boundaries and Personal Space

You may hear your older child complain about the house rules, but that’s normal. Did you know that even when the kids complain, boundaries make them feel more secure and loved? Children must be taught boundaries and personal space at an early age.

Teach your child that everyone has a personal “bubble” they stay in, making them feel comfortable. Talk to them about appropriate touch and conversations and how to respect other people’s spaces. Not only does it make for better social skills, but it can minimize conflict in their adult lives.

12. Teach Her How to Be a Listener

By nature, younger children are self-absorbed because of their limited knowledge of the world around them. As you teach them how to socialize with others, an excellent skill to explain is how to be a good listener. Some adults still haven’t learned the fine art of truly listening to what others are saying.

Give age-appropriate instructions on letting the other person talk and sharing the speaker’s emotions. Practice using examples and play conversations to learn to hear what is said and repeat it back in their own words.

13. Teach About Sharing and Taking Turns

Kindergarten indeed teaches you lessons that build the foundation of your adult life. Sharing doesn’t come naturally to kids, and you must teach and model it.

When your child learns how to share and take turns, it’s a great step in early socialization patterns. Here is where empathy comes into play. Ask your child how she feels when someone shares with her or lets her have a turn.

She will learn that sharing makes everyone happy, and it makes spending time together more enjoyable.

14. Encourage Your Child to be Himself

Always remind your child that there is nobody else just like him in the world. While it’s fun to pretend to be superheroes, movie stars, or other idolized people, tell him that his best role is to be himself.

Boost your child’s confidence by offering sincere and specific compliments. Let him know that if someone doesn’t want to be his friend, it’s the other person’s loss. Self-confident children are more apt to socialize better.

15. Teach Her How to Read Social Cues

Children don’t automatically get social cues. It takes years of practice to read facial expressions, body language, and voice tone. However, you can practice with your child and give her some examples of situations when considering someone’s feelings before speaking.

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Final Thoughts on Improving Children’s Social Skills

Teaching your child how to interact with others positively can be challenging, but it’s worth the effort. The lessons she learns in the early years can dictate things as an adult.

It’s never too early to start the learning process with play dates and other interactions. A well-rounded child will know how to socialize well, and it will prove beneficial in adulthood.