Many schools and communities have opportunities for children this age to take part in acting, which builds on their self-awareness by letting them act out feelings. If your child isn’t interested in performing himself, take him to watch actors in a local play or musical, or to the movies, and talk about how the actors knew which expressions to make in order to accurately portray the character’s feelings.
For example, take a moment to point out complex feelings and ask your child why he thinks the character feels the way she does. Is the character jealous of a classmate while also feeling rejected by not being invited to her birthday party? For children who are less self-aware, you can go a step further and relate the characters to your child. Teacher Anne Harlam suggests saying, “The character reminds me of you -- people like to talk to her because she is a good listener!” or, “The character reminds me of the time when you were nervous because you didn’t have any of your old friends in your class.” Relating your child’s experiences to characters’ emotions can help your child build self-awareness. For more age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list.
Promise not to read it and keep that promise. Allowing your child an outlet to describe what he’s feeling and thinking can help him verbalize his feelings. Having those emotions and thoughts written down will also help your child identify patterns and causes. If he often writes about feeling excited by an upcoming sports game or travel, he may recognize those events as triggers for his emotions. Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis recommends also providing a separate response journal where your child can write down feelings and ask questions that you respond to. Writing down thoughts may be a more comfortable way for your child to discuss feelings than actually speaking about them.
For example, instead of saying “I’m happy we all get to spend the weekend together” try using a word like “grateful” or “thankful” or “glad.” Exposing your child to more words can help build his emotional vocabulary. Sean Slade, director of the Whole Child Initiative at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, recommends also sharing the reasons behind your feelings. By explaining what makes you tick, you are modeling self-awareness and showing how other people’s actions can affect your moods.
As your child ages, she may begin to feel stress as a result of more demanding coursework or the increased social pressures that come with the pre-teen years. You can help your child find ways to reduce stress. For example, if she’s worried about a test, there may be an opportunity to speak with the teacher beforehand or for her to study with a classmate. You may even want to explore physical exercise as a way to manage stress. Many people find simply walking or jogging a great stress release. Teacher Anne Harlam recommends children’s yoga as a fun way for children to relax. The next time your child seems stressed or upset, ask her to join you on a walk, or for a game of basketball, and see if getting her blood pumping also helps to distract her from stress.
Discussing and following through on simple routines and tasks helps develop her self-management and goal-setting skills. It’s teaching order, organization and time management on a small level by having your child work through a set of tasks to complete a goal.
New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam says your child may not always communicate her feelings, but her actions and behaviors may offer clues. For example, if you notice she gets stressed or acts out on days she has tests, sports practice, or music lessons, it means she feels more pressure in these situations than you knew. Noting possible causes of her stress or other emotions can help you find ways to help her manage those feelings.
For example, if you find yourself on hold with customer service and feeling impatient, tell your child, “I really hate being on hold; it’s very annoying. But I’m going to take a few deep breaths and I’ll calm down.” Showing your child your self-control in the moment can be a powerful lesson. You can even work on those skills with your child when she’s not angry. Talking about coping skills like counting or taking deep breaths while she is calm will give your child practice and a skill she can turn to when she’s upset. You can also talk about the times you haven’t succeeded with your self-management to show your child that this is a learned skill that requires work.
To help your child learn about the need for respectful behavior, help him create a family credo, coat of arms or crest. Talk with him about your beliefs and expectations, and work with him to come up with a list of your family’s values, like trust, respect, kindness and generosity. After you have this list, ask your child to identify three different ways that he can apply these values in social situations. You may also want to write out all of this information on a poster board and hang it in a central area in your home as a reminder of your family’s values and expectations.
A child’s social behavior is best reinforced when parents are kind, sincere and non-judgmental. Remember that your child is looking to you to set an example of how to interact with others, and that taking a moment to consider how you interact with others is an important part of nurturing your child’s social skills.
When you’re watching the evening newscast or reading the morning paper, ask your child to give you his opinion on these issues and talk to him about the people involved on both sides. These types of stories make children aware of historical events and allow them to relate to the hardships and joys of others. They also help children to learn more about conflict resolution and the importance of respecting others and their opinions.
To help your child understand and respect the perspectives of others, talk with him about a book that he’s reading or a television show or movie that he watched recently, and ask him what would happen if the story were written from another perspective. For example, a book about King Arthur and Merlin the sorcerer can be told from Merlin’s sister Morgana’s perspective. Or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can be told from Charlie’s grandfather’s point of view. By doing this, you are not only teaching your child how to see life through different lenses, but also building his capacity for empathy and understanding.
Author and consultant Faye de Muyshondt suggests employing this technique when teaching your child how to approach certain conversations, especially when providing feedback or addressing an issue. In basic terms, this method involves “sandwiching” the feedback or problem in between a compliment and a positive conclusion. For example, if your child feels that a friend treated her unkindly, she could start with a positive comment like, “I value your friendship, and you’re always so nice to me,” then continuing with, “The other day when we were at lunch, you yelled at me and that made me sad.” This can be followed with, “I really want to keep being friends, so next time, just tell me if I’m doing something that bothers you and we can fix it before we start yelling at each other.” For more ideas on what to say, visit our conversation starters guide.
Role-playing can be an effective way to help your child learn how to be a respectful listener. Begin by asking her what she did this weekend, and as she is talking, make sure to fidget around and not give her eye contact. Once she is done, tell her to describe your body language and ask her how it felt when you were not listening to her. After this you can model what active listening looks like, and ask her to practice listening to you. When she is done, give her feedback like, “You made really good eye contact with me and you seemed to be very interested in what I had to say.” Make sure to talk to her about why active listening is important, and help her come up with strategies for how she can be a better listener to others.
Before bedtime or while commuting to school, talk to your child about put-downs and how they hurt people. Ask her to give you examples of put-downs she may have heard or said to others, and how she thinks these insults made people feel. Tell her to spin those put-downs around and come up with put-ups that she can share with others next time to make them feel better or more confident about themselves. You can also find examples of put-downs in the media. Use them as a jumping-off point for a discussion about how the situations could have been handled without making others feel unnecessarily hurt.
Books like Say Something or One of Us by Peggy Moss can help you spark a conversation about the importance of resisting negative pressures when trying to fit in with others. Once you have read the book, talk with your child about the forms that peer pressure can take (remember that peer pressure can be positive, too, if your child’s peers are steering her in the right direction), and ask your child what her friends do that makes her want to do good things. You can also ask her how it feels to be pressured in a bad way and how she dealt with it. Work together to identify negative pressure and figure out ways she can stand up for herself the next time she finds herself in a negative peer interaction. This may also be a good time to discuss tobacco, alcohol and drug prevention strategies, as it is never too early to teach your child how to avoid these influences. For more age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list.
If your child wants a new toy or video game, make him save up money for the toy himself. By late elementary school he is capable of doing small tasks for an allowance. He may also get money from relatives and friends for birthdays or other holidays. Teaching him to save that money for something he really wants will help him learn to make decisions to reach those goals. This also teaches him responsibility and some financial literacy as well.
Often, children don’t realize they are making decisions at all. For example, if your child decides to read a book instead of fighting with her sibling over the remote control, tell her that you noticed she not only made a choice to avoid conflict with her sibling, but also one that will help her academically. Praising good choices can encourage your child to continue making those decisions in the future. Additionally, make sure to take time to discuss your child’s day. Look for ways to highlight positive decisions she made and talk about why she made the choices she did.
Point out that there are often several ways to solve a problem. For example, if your child is having a hard time with a classmate during recess, you can talk with her about ways she can approach the classmate and what the potential outcomes of the conversation could be. Additionally, if your child is falling behind on her homework, you can talk through ways to remedy this. For instance, she could set aside time after dinner to continue working, she could skip an extracurricular activity until she is caught up, or she could decide not to do anything at all. You can help her talk through the different consequences of missing a favorite TV show, missing her friends or falling further behind and running the risk of failing a class. It becomes apparent rather quickly that the best option would be to set aside more time at night, and you can help guide her to the decision that will benefit her the most.
Children will make mistakes as they test boundaries and explore their growing independence. By showing your child you support him even when he makes mistakes, you’re showing him that you’re reliable and a constant comfort, which will help him not to be afraid to try something new and make mistakes again in the future.
Parent-child interactions are the foundation of your child’s social development, and when you are responsive to your child’s needs and provide her with the freedom to make decisions on her own, she is more likely to be successful in social situations. Share with your child an important choice you made in the past, and together, break down the steps that you took to reach that decision. You may even want to write it out so you can both look at it, including a list of the pros and cons of that decision. Advise your child that next time she has a tough decision to make, she can try to brainstorm a lot of options and then use a pros and cons list to help her reach a conclusion. These kinds of conversations will help you gain a better understanding of your child’s thought process, and it will allow her to see the logic and steps involved in making well-informed and thoughtful decisions.
Ask your child to plan a service project in which your family can help out in the local community. It can be volunteering at the local food bank, gathering items for a clothing drive, or spending time reading to the elderly at a local nursing home. By finding ways to translate the lesson of responsibility into action, you are helping to raise a more accountable and trustworthy child.
Teach your child environmental responsibility. Taking a responsible role in society and learning how his actions affect others is a good way for your child to practice his decision-making skills. For example, try recycling or conserving energy. Talk with your child about how bettering the environment helps others. Then work together to come up with a plan for how you can help conserve energy or encourage recycling in your home. It shows your child how small everyday decisions and actions can make an impact in the larger world.