How to Teach Social Skills to Children with Behavior Problems
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Playing cooperatively is a skill that comes more naturally to some children than others.

You’ve heard all the horror stories of children who hit their peers, refuse to share toys or interrupt when others are talking, and you might be even more dismayed when the preschool teacher tells you it’s your kid behaving poorly. Social skills are some of the most important lessons that parents should teach their children, but they are often overlooked while a parent concentrates on her child’s “misbehavior.” Think of social skills as instructions your preschooler must learn as any other skill, such as tossing a ball or constructing sentences.


  1. 1
    Demonstrate appropriate behavior. Without you realizing it, your child might pick up on some nasty habits you have, such as interrupting or impatience. While it’s easier said than done, you need to be your best self around your child and show him (rather than simply telling him) how you want him to act.
  2. 2
    Practice alternatives to poor behavior. Rather than continuously scolding your preschooler for interrupting you when you’re on the phone, practice a “signal” your preschooler can use to tell you he wants to talk to you. Show him how to place his hand on your arm as a way of saying, “listen to me.” Look at and acknowledge him; tell the party on the phone you need a second and ask your child what he needs. Pretend to talk on the phone to practice this scenario.
  3. 3
    Teach new social skills with words or narrate an action. Young children often have difficulty taking turns. When you both see another child sharing or waiting for a turn, point it out to your preschooler by saying, “Oh, look how Wendy is waiting her turn to go across the balance beam.”
  4. 4
    Teach your preschooler options for certain situations. When your child sees his peer playing with a toy, he might run over and take it from him. Teach concepts like, “When you see your friend playing with a toy, you can either wait your turn or ask him to share.”
  5. 5
    Show your child alternatives to getting angry or misbehaving. Bad behavior is often just an extreme reaction because your child doesn’t have adequate social skills. When your preschooler gets angry and starts to throw a fit, pull him aside and calmly say, “I can see you’re angry. What can we do to calm down?” This sentence validates your child’s reaction but also gives him the responsibility to figure out tools that will work for him. If he has trouble thinking of ideas for calming himself, give some suggestions, such as counting to 10 or jumping up and down five times.
  6. 6
    Find the reason for your child’s misbehavior so you can address it. When your preschooler bites or hits to get a toy or attention, say, “Ouch! Hitting hurts -- next time, ask to play with the toy.”
  7. 7
    Praise good behavior. Just like teaching appropriate skills, praising your kid when he does something right is often overlooked. Positive reinforcement is useful when practicing and learning new skills. It teaches goal setting and achievement, and gives your child more motivation to use appropriate behavior. Use verbal encouragements, such as, “I can see you and Ethan played together nicely,” use tactile cues like high fives or thumbs up, or give rewards like stickers or cookies.


  • As with learning any new skill, picking up social skills will take time and repetition. You can’t expect to teach your child social skills overnight.Be as concrete as possible and give specific details. Simply saying, “don’t bite” or “share” is not good enough; instead, say, “Let’s share our toy with our friends.”


  • If your child’s behavior is out of control or he continuously causes harm to himself or others, consult your physician or a mental health professional.

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Categories: Education and Communications

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