Need ways to teach/model social skills to/for a preschooler
June 14, 2009 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Are there any children's books or movies that can help a parent to discuss or teach better social skills to a preschooler?

Have a friend whose daughter struggles to read subtle social cues from other kids. She is completely confused by other girls her age, their body language, or subtle changes in facial expression. She seems to prefer to hang out with boys who are very obvious in expressing what they are feeling or thinking. My friend is cool with the "hanging out with boys" part, she was a tomboy too, but she has seen her daughter struggle with relating to the girls at preschool. She wants to play with them and seems to get her feelings hurt a lot by misunderstanding what is expected.

She is a bright, creative, verbally articulate, curious, sensitive child. My friend doesn't think this is a huge problem, she has friends outside of school. But being able to read people is a skill and, if there are children's books or videos that she can slip into the mix at home, she thinks that might be useful.

Her daughter seems to be "parroting" what she hears at school in pretend play ("You aren't my friend", etc.) when my friend can overhear her. This is preschool and that is to be expected.

What say you, Hive Mind? Anything you can recommend?
posted by jeanmari to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Richard Scarry's Please and Thank You is an obvious choice, although I think it best to MYOB when it comes to most parenting.
posted by furtive at 7:31 AM on June 14, 2009

My son liked Aliki's "Feelings," which helped his feeling recognition skills.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:34 AM on June 14, 2009

Recognizing subtle social cues is something autistic children struggle with, so I would suggest looking for books or programs designed for autistic preschoolers. They would teach social skills in a really concrete, structured way that would help any child, not just those with autism.
posted by Nickel at 7:41 AM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would guess your friend is doing the equivalent of trying to teach a left-handed person to become right-handed.

Sure, she should talk over things with her daughter. She should decide at home what she wants, then model it and talk about it and carry through on her expectations. (I've said "your mother and I don't scream at each other when we're upset. Can you imagine if we did?" to my six-year-old and he does seem to think it through.) The result might be a child who can function well socially in the family -- and that's no small thing.

But with other kids? Forget it. We parents don't get any say in this. We can intrude and make a mess and add a lot of stress, but we can't change the basic dynamics. Kids work that out with each other.

I teach kids, and I've seen them ignore some idea presented in a "really concrete, structured way" 100 times over but pick it up like a virus from another kid. They are learning from each other, not from us.

She likes playing with boys? Let her play with boys. Let her ignore girls outright if she wants. If she were a girl who ignored boys no one would bat an eyelash. Leave her be; she'll work it out.
posted by argybarg at 8:24 AM on June 14, 2009

I don't have a specific suggestion, but please do encourage your friend to keep up with this, even if they don't quite get it all worked out on the first few tries. Like your friend's daughter, I shared a lot of the same characteristics, though I can't say that I was the same.

My parents lacked some social skills and emotional IQ. I don't begrudge them so much anymore. They were young and products of their own upbringing. Nevertheless, by the time I got to school I had no idea how to understand what other kids said or did. Since my own role models couldn't help me, I became terribly confused and ultimately decided something was wrong with me. I still deal with the repercussions of that decision to this day. (I'm 38 years old.)

So, this is a worthwhile venture. In 1974, the structure didn't exist so much for issues like this. Today? If your friend lacks the skills, there are professionals who can help.

Good luck!
posted by tcv at 8:30 AM on June 14, 2009

I can see you care about this child, and your interest in getting involved is admirable, but I suggest using some caution around "helping" your friend with her daughter. Your friend doesn't seem to think this is a problem. Maybe you should ask her what kind of help she DOES want with her daughter, and offering that? Efforts you make to mold her preschooler will not be effective without her enthusiastic endorsement, and they could be undermining to your relationship.

An alternative idea is to become a "buddy" to this kid (perhaps you already are?) and simply spend a lot of time with her. If possible, suggest a weekly date. This will provide childcare for your friend, and also allow you to be a supportive model and friend to a kid who may be struggling.
posted by serazin at 8:55 AM on June 14, 2009

Haven't checked this site out thoroughly but seems like a good basic overview of non-media stuff your friend can model.

(Sorry, haven't got the embedded link thing down yet.)
posted by ShadePlant at 9:07 AM on June 14, 2009

Thank you for the feedback so far, keep it coming.

She actually asked me to post this question for her (she's not on Mefi). She's said she wouldn't care if her daughter only hangs out with boys but a) her impression is that her daughter is trying to figure out the girls and wants to play with them, b) the boys are entering a phase of "you can't play with us 'cause you're a girl." So, that seems to leave the little girl in the middle of both groups.
posted by jeanmari at 11:25 AM on June 14, 2009

ShadePlant, she said that link gets five thumbs up from her! In fact, THAT article links to two other really helpful, constructive articles as well.

The Dark Side of Preschool

Encouraging Social Skills in Young Children

Hat tip to you, MonkeyToes. She ordered the book as well as some from this series (?) I am unfamiliar with them.

Gonna try some of these with my own child as well! Thanks HiveMind!
posted by jeanmari at 4:09 PM on June 15, 2009

Glad to be of help, jeanmari. I've always thought that most young children have an imbalance between their high power needs and their minimal understanding of others' subjectivity. Identifying feelings in others gives children a way to comprehend social interaction/scripts (meeting some of the power needs) while increasing their gut understanding that other people are more than objects to be acted upon.

(Yeah, we learned that early with my son and the cats. Those claws? Yes, honey, cats have wishes too and they WISH YOU WOULDN'T PULL THEIR TAILS.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:51 AM on June 16, 2009

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