As I mentioned in my previous blog, oftentimes playgrounds are overlooked as solely a place where children can run around and burn some energy. While this is true, playgrounds are also a great environment to practice your child’s social skills, such as turn-taking, maintaining eye contact, demonstrating good manners, and making new friends.
Here are several ways to vary your child’s interactions and social engagements at your local playground:
- Prompt your child: provide simple prompts to help your child engage in reciprocal play with peers, rather than only parallel play (e.g. “Can you ask your friend what he is building in the sandbox?”).
- Promote positive phrases: When your child is involved in a sporting activity at the park (e.g. tag, relay races, catch, basketball), remind him to provide his friends with encouragement, such as “Way to go!”, “Good job!”, and “Nice try!” This will help create positive relationships and also work on being a good sport with winning or losing.
- Turn-taking activities: Help your child brainstorm some creative turn-taking activities, such as tennis (one child serves the ball first), hopscotch (one child goes through the game board first), or Simon Says (one child plays Simon first). These activities will promote ‘my turn/your turn,’ in which they must find a fair solution as to who gets to go first (e.g. rock, paper, scissors).
- Create an obstacle course: Suggest that your child and his friends (or new acquaintances at the playground) put together an obstacle course using their favorite pieces of equipment (e.g. first, swing across the monkey bars, then run around the track, then slide down the slide on your stomach, etc). This will help them work together to create a plan and a final product. It will also work on problem-solving and compromise skills, as they have to be open to one another’s ideas.
- Body awareness: When you notice that your child may have bumped into another child or skipped someone’s turn going down the slide, walk over and use this as a teaching moment for both children. This will help both of them reflect on what happened, and problem-solve what they could have done differently (e.g. say “Excuse me”, “May I have a turn next?”, or “I’m sorry, it was an accident!”). This will also help them both be more conscious of where their bodies are in space as they try to safely maneuver around the environment, (the playground) and ideally help them be mindful of their peers in the future.
Playgrounds are a perfect location to meet new friends and practice many age-appropriate skills. If your child is often shy or nervous when going to a new environment or when meeting new people, talk about the experience before going (e.g. “This afternoon, we are going to go to the park to play. There may be some friends you don’t know there, and that’s okay. It might be scary to make new friends at first, but it is always good to be brave, and give it a try. You can never have too many friends!”) Remember to praise your child afterwards for what he did well, and also talk about what he could do better next time. It will only get easier moving forward!