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Developing Social Skills through Play

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Developing Social Skills through Play

Written by Sheila O’Reilly

Now that lockdown is easing and we are beginning to return to some sense of normality, our children will hopefully have more opportunities to play together, so I thought it was good timing for a blog exploring social play and how children develop their social skills through playing.



Social play occurs when children play with other children or adults. Initially children play alongside each other (parallel play). They begin to interact more with each other from the age of four.  My little preschooler  is currently loving role play activities where I’m told to be the customer while she plays the shopkeeper,  for example.  As the adult, I can model the positive social behaviours that I want to instil in her such as saying please and thank you, sharing or waiting patiently for my turn.

Children need lots of practice to learn how to get along with others. They often don’t know how to react in different social situations and lack experience of how to resolve disagreements. They also don’t naturally think of how others are feeling or the implications of their own behaviour.


We can help children develop their social skills by modelling good ways of communicating, cooperating, solving problems and developing empathy.

1. Model for your child ways of talking and listening effectively eg. Look at someone when they are talking, nod your head to show you are listening, reply to someone or ask a question about what they said etc.
2. Model how to get someone’s attention by saying ‘Excuse me’ or tapping them on the shoulder.
3. Show them effective ways of joining in with a game or activity.

1. Model how to share with your friend.
2. Show them how to take turns/decide who goes first/wait patiently for your turn.
3. Explain how they can achieve more when they compromise with their friends.

1. Model how they must work together to solve a problem.
2. Allow everyone a chance to speak- to share their problems and ideas for solutions.
3. Explain that everyone needs to be in agreement on the solution.
4. Then the solution can be implemented.

Developing empathy/thinking of others
1. Explore facial expressions to think about how others might be feeling.
2. Look at examples of how your child’s behaviour might impact on others.
3. Explore how others might have a different perspective to you when playing a game for example.

Opportunities for social play can happen through lots of different role play activities such as playing shop, having a tea party, playing hairdressers etc. Social play also happens through cooperative games where children have to follow a set of rules and take turns. You can also promote social play skills through stories by talking about how a character might feel, making suggestions for what the character should do next, looking at pictures of characters to explore facial expressions etc. I have used a variety of books and story stones to teach both my girls about different elements of social skills.


I hope you find this blog useful and your little ones enjoy interacting with their friends again😍❤️.

You can browse a range of toys to support social development on our website

Role Play

Books & Story Sacks


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