How to teach your kids to play well with others

Kinderling News & Features

Share; be polite; think about how that child feels after you made them cry. Sound familiar?

They are some of the most repeated phrases of parents with young children - and for good reason. 

As Dr Laura Jana, a spokesperson for American Academy of Pediatrics and author told Feed Play Love that’s because they reflect the most obvious skills we want for our kids. 

"Learning to play well with others, learning to understand other people's body language and developing empathy are key parenting goals,”says Laura. 

“We want our kids to listen and understand these things because the benefits of playing well with others help to shape a really positive future for our kids, and everyone else around them."

There’s more to it than just playing nice 

As Laura highlights, relationships skills are highly prized in the modern corporate world. 

“'Relationships matter' is the tagline for LinkedIn, because emotional intelligence is the hottest word around when it comes to building connections. And what that really means is learning how to play nice with your friends,” says Laura. 

“And I am yet to meet a parent who doesn’t want their child to learn how to play well with other people.”

How do we teach these skills to our kids? 

The key ages for developing these emotional skills are the preschool years between 3-5 years. 

Laura says, “These are core learning years and people skills are at the core of this learning. We need to teach our children to not only understand words, but also to learn active listening;  really concentrating on what people are saying and responding appropriately.” 

Reading body language is as important as reading books

We put so much energy into teaching our children how to read and write, but Laura says true emotional intelligence is developed with learning how to read another person’s body language. 

“Learning to read people, not just words but body language. It is just as important to read to people as it is to learn how to read books," says Laura. 

The good news here is that young children are far more sensitive to other people’s emotional energy than we realise. 

“There is an intriguing neuroscience behind babies as emotion detectors … In children as young as 18 months you will see the child react differently to an angry person, the next time they see them. They appear to be able to sense another person’s emotions long before they can control or understand their own,”says Laura. 

Express your “hurt feelings” rather than anger to teach your child  

During times of high emotion, when your child is being aggressive, loud or hurting others it can be easy to default to anger. 

But Laura posed this question, “Think; do you respond better when someone is really upset, sad-upset or angry-upset? It's not as effective to get angry at your kids when they don’t do what you want them to do, “says Laura. 

“It’s far more effective to say something like, ‘That just made me sad. I don’t like it when you hit me.' Anger makes everyone defensive before they even start to process what you’ve said or what you need.”

But is that a bit like manipulating your kids? 

Laura says it’s helpful to think about it like you are emphasising your feelings, to make them more apparent to your children. 

“In the same way you name your emotions and marry them by saying: ‘I am happy because of this thing, or, I am sad because of that thing.’ You are teaching them emotions. And if you don’t teach them, who will? You don't want [your child] to get to 13 and not understand anyone else’s emotions,”says Laura.

What to do when it feels like you’re breaking up fights every 5 minutes … 

Sibling fights happen every five minutes when your kids are at certain stages, Laura says parents need to see this as peak learning time. 

“Shift how you look at it. This is peak learning time and skills develop very rapidly at these times,” says Laura. 

“Keep your sights on the big picture. What do you want your kids to do? You want them to think about others as much as themselves and that starts with recognising that their parents have feelings. It is just different from getting angry - you can be abrupt. But you take the approach: Until we figure this out, I don't want to play.”

Sounds pretty doable when put like that, doesn't it?