Useful Tools for All Parents Teaching Their Kids Social Skills
By Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D. 

Along with providing enough time and experience with peers, there are other ways to improve children’s skill at making friends.


If your child always gets to choose what to play when you’re playing with him, he may expect to always decide the activity when he’s with parents and peers. The child who expects to be in charge and gets resistance from a playmate may be surprised, frustrated, and angry. He may insist on his way. Or he may feel rejected, shut down, and just play by himself. It’s wise for any parents playing with their child to take turns deciding what to play, especially once a child is about two and a half years old. Children shouldn’t be able to run the play even when it is their turn. Children may want to dismantle what you’re still building or tell you what character to play or what words to say. All of this leads to problematic assumptions of how peer (or parent-child) play should go. The guideline to remember is: Don’t let your child do anything in playing with you that wouldn’t work if he tried it with a peer.

It is also important in all your interactions with your child – not just playtime – to let her know if something she says or does bothers you. It’s also helpful to let her know why she just said or did that. For example, if she keeps shouting louder and louder when you are talking to someone else, tell her: “I know you want me to notice you, but when you shout while I’m talking to Grandma, I get very annoyed and then I don’t want to talk to you.” Then tell her what she could say that would be acceptable to you: “Mom (Dad), when you have a minute, I want to tell you something.”

Or if you announce that it’s time to pick up the toys and she says, “You’re a mean poopy head,” let her know why you think she’s saying that and why you’re not going to be able to be with her for a while. Then have her practice what she should have said: “Mommy, it makes me mad when you tell me to clean up my toys.” Just telling her how you feel about what she just said or did isn’t enough to change behavior (e.g., “That makes me sad”). Not being available to her for a while is a useful consequence, and so is having her practice better behavior – several times in a row.

We need to tell our child if her behavior annoys, angers, or saddens us. Otherwise, she is more likely to be self-centered, less empathetic, and less able to control her unlikeable behavior – now and in the future.

Most young children do not naturally understand about taking turns in conversations. Many just keep talking and talking. We may find ourselves checking out mentally, giving our kids only half-attention. But if we don’t teach children to let others talk, it’s harder for peers to want to be with our child. As we know, friendships for children four and older are largely based on verbal communication, not just activities like chasing each other.

If your child is developing the habit of nonstop talking, say something like, “Hey, I don’t want to just listen. I have something I want to say” (or “ask you about”). Then take your turn. As he goes back to too much talking, tell him to ask you if you want to hear any more about that. Make sure you say no at least half the time. Tell him about something, but take breaks to ask him if he wants to hear more. That models more sensitive and respectful communication.

Also teach him to ask you questions like “How was your day, Daddy?” “What happened today, Mommy?” Teach him to say something complimentary about you – “I like your shirt, shoes, etc.” – and to do that with kids as well. Teach him to ask the kids questions: “Did you get an owie?” when they have a Band-aid – and to share something relevant: “I fell off my scooter and got a scrape, but it’s better now.” You can make some of these suggestions quietly to him when he’s going to school or playdates. Incorporating empathetic turn-taking into your interaction with him is more effective than just telling him how to behave.

Excerpted from I Want To Make Friends, by B. Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D.

Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D., author, has been a child/parent psychologist and a specialist in childrearing and child development for more than 25 years. Her parenting psychology practice is in Emerald Hills, California. She is also on the adjunct faculty in pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Rothenberg was the founder/director of the Child Rearing parenting program in Palo Alto, California, and is the author of the award-winning books Mommy and Daddy are Always Supposed to Say Yes … Aren’t They?, Why Do I Have To?, I Like To Eat Treats,  I Don't Want to Go to the Toilet, I Want To Make Friends and I'm Getting Ready For Kindergarten. These are all-in-one books with a story for preschoolers and a manual for parents. Her new series is for elementary school childen and their parents. The first book is Why Can't I Be the Boss of Me? (2015). For more information about her books and to read her articles, visit To find out about her counseling practice and her speaker presentations, go to

Perfecting Parenting Press 2015