Children in early education programs spend up to nine hours a day with their childcare teachers – a large number of kids are enrolled in these programs as early as six-weeks-old. As a childcare professional, you play a key role in helping your charges develop the kind of social skills they need to live positively among others.
When childcare professionals encourage kids to socialize, it teaches them competence, and helps them learn how to share, cooperate, form values and behave appropriately. Kids who don’t develop social skills when they are young typically grow into lonely adults who can’t hold down jobs or forge healthy relationships.
From the time children are born, they are constantly learning from the things they experience everyday. Even those seemingly routine happenings like mealtimes can teach kids meaningful lessons about life.
Mealtimes provide the perfect opportunity for youngsters to practice social behaviors such as building their vocabularies, taking turns, and sharing with others. Here’s how to use mealtimes to encourage social skills in kids.
• Keep mealtimes relaxed. Eating should never be a hectic experience for kids. Keep your schedule flexible enough to give children plenty of time to eat, and socialize with their friends. Use your judgment to determine how long the kids in your care will need to finish their meals.
• Sit down at the table and eat with the kids. Children learn from observing and imitating. Sitting down to eat with youngsters gives you the chance to model appropriate behavior, and encourage conversation. This interaction with kids can also keep them on track so they don’t spend their entire mealtime talking. Even when you feed infants, sit down and talk to them; they gain social skills and build vocabulary from verbal interaction.
• Allow kids to serve themselves. Allowing kids to serve their own meals teaches them to share and cooperate with others. Even toddlers can get in on the action. They can do simple things like put bread on their plates, and spread their own jelly.
• Listen carefully to all the kids. When you take the time to listen to what the children have to say, it lets them know that their opinions, as well as those of their peers are valuable.
When you use mealtimes to teach social competence to the children in your care, you’re giving them the lifelong skills they need to interact with others in a positive way. These skills will help kids build healthy friendships, and increase their likelihood of success throughout life.