How to Help Children Mature Socially

By Maria Magher
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Not all children naturally make friends. Younger children may have a hard time sharing or controlling their impulses. Older children may struggle with rejection or with working through conflict. As a parent, you can't solve these problems for them, but you can gently encourage their social development so that they can develop strong and lasting friendships and can navigate their way through any social terrain.

Step 1

Arrange play dates. If you have younger children, you can invite parents with children of a similar age to your home or to a local park or museum for a play date. Your kids have the opportunity to interact in a casual environment while also feeling secure that you are nearby.

Step 2

Respect your child's limits. WebMD notes that some children do not feel comfortable in large groups and prefer one-on-one interaction. Don't try to force your child into social interactions with larger groups if he's not comfortable. He could become anxious and socially awkward.

Step 3

Encourage interactions with older children. The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, a children's mental health, research and teaching center, says that children's development is best facilitated by interactions with socially mature peers, rather than what their parents tell them about relationships. You can help your children interact with older children through family gatherings, church social events, neighborhood socials or play dates with friends with older children.

Step 4

Foster empathy. Children who can empathize with other children's feelings will not be as likely to say hurtful things and will be more likely to show consideration, take turns and share. You can foster empathy by showing it yourself. Say things to your children like, "I see that you're upset, and I know how bad that must feel when you can't play with the toy you want" or "I'm sorry that girl said that to you. That must have really hurt your feelings." You can also model empathy in your own relationships, both in the things you say and in the things you do, such as taking food to a sick friend or trying to cheer up a friend who is having a bad day.

Step 5

Provide support and help them work through issues. As a parent, you may be tempted to tell your children what to do or to try to resolve a problem for them, such as by calling the parent of another child who has upset your child. Instead, it is important that you provide support and help your children problem-solve on their own. PBS Parents says you can ask "empowering questions" that guide children toward a resolution, such as "What can you do to resolve the situation?" or "What did you do?" and "How did it work?" You are guiding children in finding their own answers rather than giving them the answers yourself. As they master these skills, they can tackle more complex social issues later.

Step 6

Opt out of the popularity race. You and your child may both feel the pressure for your child to be popular. However, as PBS Parents notes, you cannot do anything about your child's level of popularity. You can only help him to have quality relationships with the friends he does have. If your child is feeling the sting of not having a lot of friends, WebMD suggests talking to children about your own struggles with rejection. This can help your children understand that rejection happens to everyone and is not a reflection of personal worth.