Promote Children’s Social Skills and Expressions of Gratitude during the Holidays

Andrew ScherbarthBy Andrew Scherbarth, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Clinical Child Psychologist

While for many of us the holidays have religious meaning, they also have social meaning. Including everyone in activities, helping, sharing and thankfulness—all of these are useful around the holiday season regardless of whether we are just at home or surrounded by extended family.

To help kids develop social skills, include them in larger group activities and encourage them to invite others in the family to play.

How can we help kids use some of the most important social skills? One way is to include kids in larger group activities, even if there’s a difference in age or developmental level between kids in the extended family. Another way is to encourage kids to invite others in the family to play or enjoy something like a video together. It doesn’t always strike children as a useful or important thing to do, so as adults we may need to say, “Ask your cousin if he wants to play too.”

Similarly, we can suggest that kids go up to others doing activities and ask to join. If your child needs added prompting on either of these skills, then you can tell your child the exact words. For instance, you can tell your child to say, “Do you want to play,” “Let’s play,” or possibly “Can I play too?”

If you want to go a more indirect route, then you can start playing with a child, then after a couple minutes, invite a cousin or other family member to join in too. When there is a noticeable skill difference, such as when most people in the family can throw a football 20 feet but your child can only throw one foot, you can still find ways to include your child. For instance, everyone else can be throwing the ball 20 feet, but your child can be given a chance to catch and throw from just 1 foot away when it is her turn.

Encourage children to help out with holiday chores, share and clean up after themselves.

When it comes down to helping or sharing, parents can make small suggestions. For instance, “I’ll give you a piece of candy too, but first give this piece to your cousin.” Or kids can be given a chance to help out by setting the table with napkins or putting out something else that’s not breakable. It’s not 100 percent necessary that they help out, but many kids love attention and would probably want to be involved. If so, then you can use that to your advantage to help keep them busy and to offer a great way to earn a lot of praise for taking part in the holiday spirit of helping out. Children can also be prompted to go ask if they can help out a relative.

For self-care skills, children can even be prompted to simply help clean up after themselves. No, not every child needs to get a washcloth and wipe the table, and not every child can hold on to a plate to take back to the sink. However, most every child can go throw away their napkin or pick up discarded wrapping paper at the very least. Cleaning up is not only a self-care skill; it also helps out anyone else in the family who is cleaning up overall.

One of the last things we can do is to promote gratitude. There is often a lot of gift giving around the holidays, which means there are lots of opportunities to receive things and to show gratitude. Children can show gratitude in a number of ways—saying thank you to the gift giver directly after opening a gift, writing thank you cards, drawing pictures for gift givers, or even just giving a hug. Tell your child to show gratitude in whatever way you think fits best and heap praise on your child does.

The holidays are a great time for togetherness and joy. They also give us a special opportunity to promote social skills. Regardless of what you and your family do this holiday season, from the bottom of our hearts, everyone at Keystone wishes you and your family an excellent and heartwarming holiday season!

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