Social development is the gradual gaining of the skills, attitudes, relationships, and behavior that enable children to interact with others. Social play happens when children are playing with adults or with other kids.
Sociodramatic play is an especially valuable type of play. Besides having fun (which has value in itself!), children learn social skills that include: communication, cooperation, problem-solving and perspective taking. Research shows that these social skills help children succeed in school and in life, too. (Caprara et al.)
For children to best learn social skills through play, they need lots of opportunities to play with other children, of course. But they also need support from sensitive adults. Here’s why:
We can support children’s social skill development by playing with our kids and modeling the positive social behaviors we want them to use. We can also teach them social skills using a technique called “scaffolding” - giving just enough help at first to build new skills, then letting them do more and more on their own.
Here are some ways to support young children’s development of social skills:
Explain what cooperation looks like in different play situations:
When children play together, conflicts are inevitable. Help kids learn to solve problems collaboratively by teaching them to negotiate. Here are the steps in successful problem-solving:
We can help children understand the perspective of others by pointing out:
Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Pastorelli, C., Bandura, A., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2000). Prosocial foundations of children's academic achievement. Psychological Science, 11(4), 302-306.
Forrester, M. M. & Albrecht, K. M. (2014). Social emotional tools for life: An early childhood teacher’s guide to supporting strong emotional foundations and successful social relationships. Houston: Innovations in ECE Press.
Lancy, David F. and Grove, M. Annette, "Marbles and Machiavelli: The role of game play in children's social development" (2017). Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology Faculty Publications. Paper 621.
White, R. E. (2012). The power of play - A research summary on play and learning. For Minnesota Children’s Museum Smart Play. https://www.childrensmuseums.org/images/MCMResearchSummary.pdf
1. Play connecting games with each of your children.
Connecting games are those you play just to focus on your relationship with your child. You are playing a connecting game when: you feel loving toward your child, you are in close contact (using eye contact and touch when possible), and you are being playful. These activities can be brief but are extremely powerful in strengthening the bond between you and your child, which is important for children of every age.
2. Dedicate a special time to play with each of your children individually.
Schedule about 15-20 minutes when you will play with your child one-on-one, allowing him or her to be in charge. Keep rules to a bare minimum and don’t try to lead their play or teach them anything. Just be emotionally present and give him or her your full attention. (Yes, this means turning off your cellphone!) Give this special playtime a name and commit to offer it consistently for each child, whether it is every day or every week. You and the child will feel closer and you will get to know your child’s interests and abilities even better!
3. Interact in ways that support your relationship.
Use these relationship-building ways of interacting with your children throughout your day, when you are playing and any time you are together. They not only strengthen your relationships with them, they also set the stage for more beneficial play times between you.
These times are opportunities to engage in “serve and return” interactions. These brain-building back-and-forth interactions are like a game of tennis: Your child “serves” by looking, pointing, or talking, then you return the serve by responding to the focus of their attention. Take as many turns as you can, noticing serves, encouraging and talking about his or her interests, waiting for responses and realizing when they are ready to stop. Serve and return interactions with shared attention are an extremely powerful way to build brains!
Develop rituals to foster closeness. Rituals are consistent routines that you create with each child’s needs in mind. They are designed to strengthen relationships and provide predictability and comfort to your children. If you’ve developed a way of helping your children get ready for bed based on their needs and interests that is the same every night, you have a bedtime ritual. Think of other times during your daily routine that you can build in rituals and get your children’s help in choosing activities to strengthen your relationship: getting ready in the morning, saying hello and goodbye, during rides in the car or bus, or waiting. Rituals build relationships and have the added benefit of helping make mundane routines more enjoyable times for all of you!
Think positive. What you focus on is what you get! To get the most brain-building benefit out of your interactions with your children, focus on what you want them to do, not what you don’t want.
When children are seeking your attention, they are really looking for relationship. This is a basic human need we never outgrow; our brains are wired for connection with others. When children are engaging in behaviors that “push our buttons”, try to think positive thoughts. Take time to observe them and listen to them, notice the good things they do, and offer encouragement as often as you can. When you think positive, your connection with your children will grow – and so will your joy in life!
Now that you know how important your relationships with your children are and have some playful ways to strengthen them, you are ready to have some fun. Enjoy growing closer with your children through play, and know you are building their brains and giving their learning, behavior and health a great start in life!
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (n.d.) Serve and return. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/serve-and-return/
Bailey, B. A. (2001). Easy to love, difficult to discipline: The 7 basic skills for turning conflict into cooperation. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers Inc.
Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center Archive. (n.d.). The importance of teacher-child relationships in Head Start. https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/archive/policy/im/acf-im-hs-08-21-attachment
Forrester, M. M. & Albrecht, K. M. (2014). Social emotional tools for life: An early childhood teacher’s guide to supporting strong emotional foundations and successful social relationships. Houston: Innovations in ECE Press
Sources of Connecting Games
Bailey, B. A. (2000). I love you rituals. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc
Torbert, M. & Schneider, L.B. (1993). Follow me too: A handbook of movement activities for three- to five-year-olds. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Pierce County Library (n.d.) Wiggles, tickles & rhymes.
Think back to when you were a child. What were your favorite ways to play? Chances are you still enjoy a version of those things. Try to bring them back into your life, and provide opportunities for the adults in your personal and professional lives to be playful as well.
According to Stuart Brown, there are eight different adult play personalities. You may have one or two of these as your primary ways to play. If you are in a leadership position, it's helpful to know the different styles of play so you can tap into what each person thinks is fun for teambuilding activities. Here are the play personalities:
Here are some teambuilding activities I've found for the different personality types. Try one out at your next staff meeting or family gathering! I've included ways to play that can be done virtually, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
That person then points to yet another person and says "ZAP!“
That person points to another person and says "ZOP!"
This continues, but the words must be said in order: ZIP, ZAP, ZOP.
If someone makes a mistake and says a word out of order, that person is out of the game.
Virtual Game: “Name, Place, Animal, Thing” https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/entertainment/g32098665/best-games-to-play-on-zoom/
To play, pick a letter. Each player lists a famous person's name, a place, an animal, and a thing that begins with that letter. The first person to type them into the online chat wins.
"Virtual Simon Says"
"Simon" gives instructions on actions to do, saying “Simon says” before some actions and not others. Participants do only the actions “Simon says.”
If they do the action not preceded by “Simon says” they are "out." When only one player remains that person wins.
"Human Treasure Hunt" http://scavenger-hunt.org/25-human-scavenger-hunt-questions/
Go around the room and identify people who meet the criteria on the list:
Virtual "Show and/or Tell" (https://biz30.timedoctor.com/virtual-team-building/)
What do you collect? Write it in the chat! If you have a piece of your collection with you, show it, too!
"Add-A-Word Stories" adapted from: http://www.icebreakers.ws/small-group/connecting-stories.html
“Exciting Sponge” https://museumhack.com/virtual-team-building-for-remote-teams/
To play, each team member grabs a random object in arms length and creates a story about it. You can default to describing a sponge.
The goal is to make up something amazing about the object. The more absurd the better!
Be kind to yourself, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and put more play in your day. Laugh and be playful every chance you get - you'll be helping yourself and sharing joy with others. Everyone will benefit!
Brown, S. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul. New York: Penguin.
Frost, J., Wortham., S. & Reifel, S. (2011). Play and child development (4th ed.,). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Magnuson, C. D., & Barnett, L. A. (2013). The playful advantage: How playfulness enhances coping with stress. Leisure Sciences, 35, (2), 129-144.
National FFA Organization. (2009). Leadership on the go: A library of activities for inside and outside the classroom. www.siue.edu/SIPDC/PD/communication/LOG.FFA_Leadership. pdf.
Proyer, R. T. (2012). A Psycho-linguistic study on adult playfulness: Its hierarchical structure and theoretical considerations. Journal of Adult Development, 19, (3), 141-149.
Torbert, M. & Schneider, L.B. (2005) Follow me too: A handbook of movement activities for three- to five-year-olds. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Yu, P., Wu, J. J., Chen, I. H., and Lin, Y. T. (2007). Is playfulness a benefit to work? Empirical evidence of professionals in Taiwan. International Journal of Technology Management, 39, (3-4), 412-429.
I'm Diane Goyette, a Child Development Specialist, Trainer, Consultant and Keynote Speaker. I'm excited to share my blog!