A look into Social Skills: Kindy and Sibling play

For many children, having to rely on Social Skills is a challenge at Kindy, School or even at home. Managing conflict, dealing with the unpredictability of another child (or children) and requiring language to support play are often skills that require scaffolding and teaching.

As some children will soon be entering into their final stages of Kindy, the transition to school is a big change. As such, we are going to look at a few stages of a child’s social skill development that we often see in clinic and also discuss with parents. From here we will address some ways to teach and support social skill development and success at school and home.

Our first part will look at some ideas for Kindy, Pre school and sibling play.

Kindy and Pre-School Social Skills (learning about early turn taking skills, waiting, joining in games, developing friendships, following rules)

  • Providing support for group play (start with pairs) then build up to larger groups, especially for those children who are socially less confident.
  • Start with simple physical games, so not as socially confronting, but focusing on taking turns, combining regulation and basic social skills. This can lead to increasing comfort levels and can provide a ‘guide’ for those more uncertain with social cues and social skills.
  • Games that don’t require too much scaffolding (e.g. games that have a reduced focus on verbal skills) but have more simple physical/movement based steps, can allow a greater number of children to engage. Games like follow the leader allow and encourage all children to work together, so once one person is a leader, the others are encouraged to stay with the group.
  • Parallel play (playing a game along side another child, without specifically interacting directly with that other child) is often a good starter. It can give some children confidence in being and playing around others, before delving into more complex reciprocal play.
  • ‘Play partners’ (e.g. names on paddle pop sticks) to support random partner assignment for recess play. This can ensure there is novelty in play partners and new skills are developed. Also providing scaffolding to guide’ what game will be played’, to initially provide ideas of what games to start and how to play. This overcomes barriers of ‘introductions’ and playing with the same people often.
  • Scaffolded pairs and small groups – carefully choosing pairs so that the ‘dynamic’ is right. Especially for those that are not as socially confident, teaming these children up with more confident ‘players’ can support play skills.
  • Use of themes and interests (e.g. common interest of superheroes) to initially engage and encourage. Combining the use of dress ups can also further support initial engagement and having a ‘theme’ or ‘discussion topic’ for peers to follow.

Sibling Playhow to support play and the inevitability of more heightened emotional situations with siblings at home and in the community.

  • First and foremost, remember that siblings are often together and there is always going to be more disagreement in social play due to this.
  • Some children that are challenged by play skills, but show some signs of ‘fighting’ and ‘standing their ground’ with siblings, are actually demonstrating social skills and confidence.
  • Always starting with basic games that most aged children can engage in (e.g. basic ball game, tunnels, simple trampoline activities – to support sibling play).
  • Trying to avoid too many ‘pet interests’ or ‘obsessions’ to encourage new play ideas and variation with play ideas.
  • Having to factor in family dynamic changes that occur with siblings, e.g. ‘New Baby’. Ideas to support this include ‘helping’ dolly through play (pretend play), using ‘baby noises’ to prepare children for the onset of a new child.
  • Support child dynamics through responsibility and a ‘helper’ role. This can support some siblings to ‘bond’ and work together. This again can be very effective when supporting a baby/younger sibling,  and this can further provide growth for the older child’s play and emotional development.
  • Have 1:1 time with a parent/carer and child. Having specific and set time for individualised play 1:1 can lead to more positive experiences between a child and parent and also allows parents specialised time with each child. This can help validate each child’s sense of self, and in the case of a baby/younger child, can help with parent-child attachment. This play can be undertaken when a baby is asleep or feeding/toileting or being supported in another way. 
  • Specific resources to provide behavioural support, e.g. ‘Way to A’ to support positive choices. Our previous post on the Way to A discusses the effectiveness of this behavioural approach and its role in supporting ‘choices’.

These are just a few ideas and can provide some further guidance for teachers and families. Next time we will look at social skill support for junior primary school children and also for those entering middle and upper primary, where social awareness and social confidence are a factor.


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