Teach your child new skills and problem solving
The acquisition of social skills is influenced by the child’s temperament and personality traits. It’s important for children to be heard and to have permission to express and experience their feelings. You and your child can practise regulating and verbalising your emotions with the help of books about feelings or emotion cards.
- Mahti emotion cards (Available in Finnish. The link will take you to Tukiliitto Association’s website which is available in Finnish)
- Printable material to support social-emotional skills (Available in Finnish. The link will take you to the Viitottu rakkaus website which is available in Finnish)
- Various types of games and exercises to support social-emotional skills (Available in Finnish. The link will take you to the Hyvinvoiva perhe website which is available in Finnish)
Think about the skills you want to teach your child
It’s important to teach children to solve everyday problems in constructive ways. Children don’t know how to do this without being taught, which is why they need an adult to teach them. Parents usually want to teach their children things that will be important for them in life.
These include, for example:
- How to listen to others.
- How to share their thoughts.
- How to regulate and express their emotions without harming themselves or others.
- How to cope independently with everyday tasks (brushing teeth, making breakfast, cleaning up).
- How to regulate and recognise your own energy level (in Finnish)
Learning social skills
Social skills include the ability to share what you have, the ability to compromise and to apologise when you have hurt someone else. You can help your child learn social skills by setting an example, teaching them how to behave in different situations and supporting their friendship skills.
Children learn by example. They pay attention to how their parent talks to others or how their parents talk to each other. Does the parent listen, talk over others or use bad language? Is the parent able to agree on things and can the parent share things themselves or compromise?
Social skills can also be learned through play. You can teach your child through role play, for example, how to join in a game or how to initiate it.
You can guide your child to join in a game, for example by:
- saying something complimentary, such as “Your game looks fun, can I join you?”
- offering to help, “Can I help you build this castle?”
- showing an interest, “What are you playing, can I join you?”
You can also practice introducing yourself with your child. “Hi, I’m Teddy Bear. Who are you?” Or you can practise showing interest in another person and saying something positive about them, “How is Turtle today?” and “What a lovely hat Turtle is wearing.”
When an adult joins in in a child’s play, it’s also a good opportunity to practise taking turns and listening to the other person. As a parent, if you notice that your child clearly has some challenges with a social skill, you can practise the skill during play with your child. Always remember to praise your child when he or she behaves in the way you want.
You can also help your child practise social skills by inviting their friends over and supporting their people skills and play. It’s always a good idea to praise the children when the play is going well: “It’s nice to see you sharing the toys so well.” By monitoring the situation, the parent can intervene when the children have a disagreement and can’t resolve it themselves.
When playing and doing other things, small and big disappointments and problems sometimes arise. A young child doesn’t yet have much experience of disappointment, and it’s the parent’s job to help the child to cope and deal with it. This is when the child needs a parent’s words and support. It’s important for the parent to put the child’s feelings into words and explain that they’re acceptable and understandable. Consider, for example, a situation where a small child can’t go on the swing because another child got there first. The parent might say: “I understand you’re upset because you wanted to go on the swing and the other child beat you to it. Let’s wait for the swing to be free.” You can also help a young child by diverting their attention to something else. “Hey look, the carousel is free!”
If your child is slightly older, you can discuss with them the best way to resolve the situation. “There’s only one swing and two children. What should we do?”
It’s important for a parent to remember that they should never downplay or laugh at a child’s feelings. The emotion the child is experiencing can be powerful for them, and an adult’s support is important in helping them deal with it.
When problem solving:
- First, help your child understand the situation and the emotions involved. What is the problem?
- Encourage your child to come up with suggestions to solve the problem. Praise them for all their suggestions. How could we solve the problem? What kinds of different solutions can you think of?
- Take time to think with your child about the consequences the different options might have. Use open-ended questions to help the child to see the pros and cons of the suggestions. What happens then?
- Which solution is best? Which one makes them feel good? Which one is fair? Which one is safe?
- Help the child to put their chosen plan into action and to see what happens.
- Be positive and make the situation fun.
- Praise the child for their great thinking.
Children follow their parents and adopt their parents’ behavioural patterns. You can model various problem-solving skills for your child. If a parent retreats to the bathroom to sulk or slams doors and shouts, children are likely to follow and adopt similar behaviours in difficult situations. If the parent thinks out loud about the solution to the problem they are facing and tries to stay calm, the child will learn this pattern of behaviour. With their parent’s support, it’s useful for children to learn their own methods and ways of thinking that will help them cope with difficult situations. In this way, the parent is teaching them a way of thinking rather than telling them the right way to act.
Help your child learn to regulate their emotions
Emotion regulation refers to a person’s ability to adequately control their emotional reactions. Like eating by yourself or learning to walk, emotion regulation is a developmental achievement.
Children have different temperaments and differ in how quickly they learn emotion regulation skills. Some things, such as delayed speech development, attention deficit disorder or learning difficulties, can delay the development of emotion regulation.
You can help your child learn to manage their emotions better by:
- Creating safe and consistent conditions. It helps the child to know what is going to happen.
- Setting an example that emotions can be managed.
- Being accepting of feelings. A child doesn’t express their feelings to torment their parent. The child isn’t being mean.
- Naming and describing emotions. Regularly naming emotions will help your child to identify and deal with them. Research shows that simply naming an emotion aloud decreases its intensity.
- Sharing your own feelings with your child and showing them how you cope with different emotions.
- Helping the child to develop more realistic expectations and a more compassionate relationship with themselves.
It’s also important to teach your child the difference between feelings and action. We can practice tolerating difficult emotions without acting in an unpleasant way. Once the most intense feeling has passed, we are able to think more clearly and make better choices.
Learning to be independent
Children learn by example and by observing various situations in everyday life. First the parent does everything for the little child and the child just observes the parent. When the child is slightly older, the parent shows them how to do things and asks the child to practise, while supporting them. Bit by bit, the parent reduces the help they offer and eventually the child internalises the skill and does the thing themselves. Once the child has reached the stage where he or she is practising to cope independently, you can use the following method to help them learn:
In this method, the parent first asks the child if the child knows what to do. For example, the parent might ask the child if they remember what to do first when brushing their teeth. If the child doesn’t remember or hesitates, the parent gives them a hint first and if the child still doesn’t know, the parent tells them. The parent keeps an eye on the child and helps them whenever necessary. Don’t forget to thank your child for trying. Praise your child when they act independently and solve problematic situations.
A parent’s expectations of independence should not be too high considering the child’s age, but not too low either. For example, a 3-year-old can’t be expected to clean their room on their own. Nor can you expect a 3-year-old to dress themselves and to get ready to go out without their parent’s help. But you can expect a 3-year-old to take part in cleaning with a parent according to their abilities. The same goes for getting dressed. It’s important to remember that children go through different stages of independence and may sometimes need support in remembering a skill they learned previously.
Webster-Stratton, C. (2006). The Incredible Years: A Trouble-Shooting Guide for Parents of Children Aged 2–8 Years. Publisher: The Incredible Years.
Triple P – Positive Parenting Program.
Karsten Hundeide: Kannustava vuorovaikutus käytännössä: ICDP-ohjelman toteutus. International Child Development Programme (ICDP) – Suomi ry. 2017.