What should I do reinforce the "play nicely and share" lessons taught to my preschool daughter (only child!) at home? I'm not familiar with the social-emotional curriculum the school uses.


Shauna Tominey, Associate Research Scientist - Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

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Wonderful suggestions, Abbie! I wanted to add a few additional ideas that might be helpful.

First, you mention that you are not familiar with the social-emotional curriculum that your child's school is using. It might be helpful to ask your child's teacher if he or she has any information about it to share. Some programs have parent flyers, handouts, or even videos. Additionally, you could request a parent-teacher conference to learn more about the approach your child's school is using to promote pro-social behaviors so that you can use the same words or read the same books to reinforce these lessons with your daughter at home.

You also mentioned that your daughter is an only child. Abbie made some terrific suggestions for finding social opportunities (e.g., attending playgroups) where your child can practice these skills. You can also practice these skills together at home through role-plays using yourselves as different characters, dolls, action figures, stuffed animals, or puppets. For instance, you can play pretend school and act out different scenarios that might arise (e.g., one child who is new at school and needs to be taught the school rules; a friend who is having trouble taking turns or who grabs toys from other children without asking). With each of these scenarios, you can talk with your daughter about how the character feels (e.g., frustrated that she wants a turn playing with the toy) and what the character can do (e.g., Say, "May I have a turn?"). Through these scenarios, your daughter will practice problem solving by coming up with ideas for how the characters might respond and have an opportunity to practice the words you would like her to say.

Words to practice during role-plays might include:

  • "Want to play with me?" (inviting a friend to play)
  • "Can you help me?" (Asking a teacher or friend for help)
  • "Can I please have a turn next?" (turn-taking/sharing)
  • "I'm sorry. Are you okay? Can I help you feel better?" (making amends)
  • "I don't like it when ___" (expressing feelings and needs appropriately using words)
  • "Please" and "Thank you"

You can also model this language yourself in your daily interactions with your child as another way of reinforcing these behaviors.

Kate Zinsser, Applied Developmental Psychologist

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It's so wonderful that you want to extend what you daughter is learning at preschool. Have you talked with your daughter's teacher yet about how to be consistent? Like Shauna suggested, I would recommend that you start there - find out what SEL curriculum they're using in the classroom (if they're using one). You can read a little bit about several popular ones in an article I wrote last month. Regardless of whether or not they're using a specific curriculum, ask the teacher about some of key words they use and try to use them at home too. Do they sing a "calm down" song? Learn it! Do they have a special way to ask to join a group? Remember it and suggest it to your daughter when next she looks anxious about joining a new group of kids at the park.

It's also important to know when/where you and the teacher have different expectations for your daughter. Sometimes parents want their children to respond differently to socially challenging events at home than teachers do at school - for example, some parents tell their children to stick up for themselves "if he hits you, hit him back." At school that would cause chaos but it's ok to have different expectations for how your child behaves outside of school - you just need to help your child understand that different contexts have different behavioral expectations. Savvy preschoolers can understand this, if they're coached through it and well supported and if the teachers and parents are on the same page. Speak openly with your child's teacher about these differences so that she/he knows what your daughter is hearing at home. That way, if the teacher sees your daughter do something unexpected, they can help her remember what the classroom rules are and what the home rules are.

As for other things you can do at home, I just wrote a short piece on some strategies to enhance children's emotional competence and many of these would hold true for social competencies too. Hope that helps!

Abbie Mood, Early interventionist & Freelance Writer

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That's a great question - it can be tough to practice sharing with an only child! You can begin establishing turn taking rules with adults, and by practicing "my turn" with different games and activities that you are doing with her. When you are playing a game or a back-and-forth activity, tell her "my turn" when it's your turn and ask that she do the same (you may need to prompt her "who's turn is it?" at first).

Another way to practice this is by getting her to story times, playgroups, and other social experiences with other children. You can see how she is doing with other children and step in an model behavior if necessary.

For some children, it is helpful to use a timer for sharing, which is something that you can start at home or use in play situations. If she is in the middle of an activity, it might be okay for her to finish before sharing or giving up her toy. In that case, you may want to use your phone to give her "2 more minutes" to finish. That way, when the timer goes off, she knows it's time to share and the alert to share is coming from an external source, not from mom or dad.

And lastly, books like "Hands are not for hitting" can help children understand what they should be doing and are something that can help prevent incidences from occurring. Spending time reading together is always a great use of time, and you can have conversations with your preschooler about what is happening in the pictures in the book. There are some other great books about sharing here: http://childrensbooksguide.com/manners/sharing. It might also be helpful to read some books about friends and what it means to be a good friend. There is good list here: http://delightfulchildrensbooks.com/2013/08/29/friendship-childrens-books/.

Hope that helps!

Danny Jones, Personally speaking, the best way to make a pre-schooler understand

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Personally speaking, the best way to make a pre-schooler understand anything is by showing them how to do it. For example, if you want your kid to learn to keep he house neat, you pick something that’s not in its place and place it where it should be. Make sure the child sees this. It’s like a professional writer teaching a novice by showing their writings.

Jace, thanks for sharing!

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Once I had to write an analytical essay on a similar topic and I mentioned there that all the factors must be included - attention, patience, music, elements of play, etc. This source was very helpful http://essaystore.net/analysis-essay

Jace, analysis

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Once I had to write an analysis essay on how much do children copy their parents and how much does the music influence on them. It was an interesting topic to research and this source really helped me a lot. http://essaystore.net/analysis-essay

Carrie Hagen, Nonfiction Writer and Researcher, Teacher

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Are you able to organize playdates for your daughter? I had a similar concern for my three-year-old, and it helped to observe her playing with others. Afterwards, I could speak with her (briefly and specifically) about positive choices she made ("I loved how you shared your crayons with Charlie!") and ask her about specific conflict ("Was it hard to share your crayons?"). These observations gave me a context that I could draw from when it came time to reinforce certain behaviors and responses ("When someone asks to use our crayons, what can we say to him?").

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