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Preparing Your Child: Social Skills

Preparing your child for school means more than preparing them to learn certain subjects. The social environment at school is likely to be different from home. This article provides tips on preparing your child socially for attending school.


Sharing at school may be different than the kinds of sharing that go on at home. At home, while children may share a number of items, many children have certain possessions that are earmarked as theirs. At school, the balance of items will be shared items, and there may neither be enough to go around or an opportunity for everyone to have his or her first choice. Somebody else may get to sit on the blue beanbag, use the computer during free time, or lead the line to the lunchroom.

Giving children a preview of this environment and giving them words to use when they don’t get what they want (“May I please use that when you’re done?”), the understanding of how to deal graciously in a world with disappointments, and the resources to come up with a plan B when their plan A fails are all strategies that will help them cope.

Turn Taking

Many things are done by turns in school, and in a class with up to 30 children, your child’s turn may seem a long time coming. There may be turns to use the water fountain, to lead the line out to recess, to feed the class gerbil, etc. In addition, school conversation - with so many people involved - often means raising one’s hand and waiting to be called on.

Practice in turn taking and in waiting productively are useful. It is very important to help the child who forgets what he or she wished to say while waiting to work on strategies to be able to keep ideas in mind while attending to other people’s ideas. Helping them associate their first idea with other related thoughts that lead back to it is one strategy. Simple practice in remembering things can also help.

Choosing Teams

Sometimes students are asked to choose other students to work with. Since this may never happen at home, you may wish to prepare your child with some strategies for doing this. How do you choose a partner for various activities? How do you choose other students for a gym class game? This is a good time to talk about how it feels to be the last person picked for something and how your child can cope with this situation if he or she is last or if he or she is the chooser.


At home, after toilet training, children often do not have to announce their intention to go to the toilet. Some classrooms have a bathroom attached, so that students may quietly exit and re-enter without drawing the attention of the rest of the class, but other schools have larger bathroom accessible only by leaving the classroom and traveling down a hall. In this case, students may have to raise their hand and announce their intentions in front of the whole class. Students may find this embarrassing or bathroom humor may kick in. Preparation can help them deal with this situation.

General Civility

Common kindness does much to smooth the interactions of a group of people who spend long periods of time together. Polite expressions like please and thank you, and courteous gestures like holding doors for people following you and greeting people when you meet them for the first time in a day, can make life much pleasanter. Refraining from interrupting when others are speaking and following directions carefully and the first time they’re given are also helpful. Students who have integrated these behaviors will help to make school life flow more smoothly.

Written by Mary Elizabeth