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By creating or playing fun games that can be played one on one or in a group, you are teaching your child tools they can use to interact with others. Other kids can be intimidating, and it can be hard for a shy or anxious child to figure out social rules as an outsider. However, if a child is able to implement familiar rules in a social setting, namely the rules of a fun game, they get a leg up in interacting with other kids on an even playing field.
Fun games you might play with your child and suggest that they ask other children to play with them might include alphabet games (spotting items in the surrounding world alphabetically until you get to Z, i.e., apple, bee, car, dog, and so on), the game “I, No, Yes” (wherein one person is not allowed to say the words “I,” “no” or “yes” and the other is supposed to try and trick them into saying them, and if any of the words is said then the two switch), or story games (one person says the first sentence of a “story,” such as “Once upon a time there was a dog.” Then another person says a sentence to continue the story, and everyone involved takes turns and tries to make the story as interesting or funny as possible).
Go to Craft Fairs
Craft fairs are a great place for children to interact with others while also engaging in an activity that takes the focus off of socialization. Children will get to practice social skills such as asking politely (“May I use the scissors, please?”), and learn to share their personality publicly via the safe and creative medium of art. You can also suggest that they watch and see if anybody’s art reflects the things that they themselves like, such as dinosaurs or horses, and encourage them to compliment others’ work. Compliments help to start conversations with others off on the right foot.
If you can find a craft fair where adults are welcome, too, you can also help by modeling the behavior you want to see in your child by smiling at others, complimenting them and asking conversational questions. You can also compliment your child later on any positive social choices they made during the fair: “Way to walk up to Cameron and ask him for the scissors—you were so confident!” or “Did you notice how Susan smiled back at you when you smiled at her? You’ve got a great smile!”
Choose an Adventure
Give your child a choice of several “adventures.” These might include swimming at the local pool, having a picnic, going to a park, getting ice cream, or almost anything you can think of. As part of these adventures, ask them to invite another kid they know or have met to come along. Be sure to mention that the child’s parents are welcome to come, too. As the child they ask might decline, don’t put too much pressure on your child, but make it clear to them that you both have a “mission” to make some other kid’s life more fun by bringing them on an adventure with you.
One on one activities lower the anxiety involved in socializing, and can make it easier for a child to learn what behavior is most effective in their interactions with others.
Sticker prizes are ideal for almost any kind of behavioral motivation in children. A good way to introduce sticker prizes for socialization is to make a poster “calendar” with a grid of all the days of the month. Every time you see your child make the effort to approach another child, or introduce themselves, or initiate a conversation by saying “hello!” or “good morning!” with a smile, allow them to add a sticker to the calendar for that day.
If you want, you can make it a matter of trying to get as many stickers on the calendar as possible, or think of additional “prizes” for weeks or months with a sticker on every day, such as buying them their favorite kind of sugary cereal, or having to address them as “Sir” or “Milady” for a day.
You can make it a game for your child to practice introducing themselves to you as themselves as a cue for you to pretend to be someone fascinating or funny, and have them ask you questions and share information about themselves with this person. Place emphasis on the idea that you never know who you might meet on a given day, and that the chances are good that they might meet someone more interesting than they expected—like a princess, alien, or dragon in disguise—if they just ask enough questions and help you to trust and want to open up to them.
It may be helpful to tell them things like “I hardly know anything about you!” or “Guess what my favorite animal is” or “Do you always look so SERIOUS?” to make them laugh and change their attitude or encourage them to talk more or ask more questions.
It’s important not to put too much pressure on your child to socialize, but not to allow them to shut themselves away entirely, either. It can be tricky finding a good balance between the two, but as long as you maintain a healthy and positive attitude towards the idea of socialization rather than an attitude that induces further stress, your child will be overcoming their anxiety and meeting new friends before you know it.