7 Simple Games To Play With Young Kids — That Teach Unique Social Skills They'll Use For Life

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Family plays with boxes

Helping your child develop social skills can make a lasting positive impact on their life. Games can make the lessons stick — and make them fun to learn.

Social skills games encourage children to join in, cooperate, take turns, understand social expectations, meet playmate expectations, and recognize inappropriate behavior.

People with good social skills often know what to say when, how to behave in a variety of situations, and how to make good choices.

Many children learn about norms and acceptable behaviors through their everyday social interactions with parents, teachers, and peers. However, some children need more direct social skill instruction. You could lecture them about it, or you could build vital life lessons into the games you play with your kids.

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How can social skills games help kids who are falling behind?

We use our social skills every day to communicate and interact in society, both verbally and non-verbally.

Good social skills help everyone successfully interact in social situations, build positive relationships and have a better self-image.

The best social skills games can help kids improve:

  • Dealing with teasing and losing
  • Listening
  • Following instructions and rules
  • Ignoring distractions
  • Cooperating
  • Competing
  • Using manners
  • Showing empathy and thinking about the other’s point of view
  • Self-advocating, asking for help, and asking permission
  • Waiting their turn
  • Making responsible decisions
  • Anticipating other people’s actions

Social skills games can help build social development.

Parents, teachers, school counselors, psychologists, and speech/language pathologists can implement these social skills games.

These activities can be performed one-on-one or in a group setting and are a great way to bond with your child/students.

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Here are 7 games to play with kids that will teach them social skills.

1. Simon Says

Call out simple commands like "Simon says, touch your nose" and demonstrate the command yourself. As long as you say "Simon says," your child has to hear and react to you.

Social skills practiced with this activity include self-control, listening, impulse control, following instructions, and focus.

2. Scavenger Hunts

Children work together to find objects or get a prize. Start by saying, “Find a hat, a duck and a book and bring them back to me."

If your child has trouble following multiple directions at a time, you can start with one item and gradually add more. Ask them to repeat the instructions back to you.

Next time, teach them to repeat the instructions back to themselves. This life lesson will help them manage distractions.

If your child becomes distracted, use a clear short directive to bring their attention back to the instructions (e.g. "How are you doing with the book?").

Social skills practiced with this activity include teamwork, organization, problem-solving, decision-making, listening, following directions, taking turns, and cooperating.

3. Telling Short Stories

After your child shares a story with you, show you were listening by summarizing what they said. Ask questions and show empathy if needed. Ask them to do the same when it's their turn.

To practice ignoring distractions, play the game in a high-distraction area, like a busy park. Remind your child that when they're listening to the teacher, they may have to ignore distractions.

If your child becomes distracted, use clear short directives to bring their attention back to you (e.g. "Please go on, I’d like to hear more").

For kids who tend to ramble, set a timer or limit each person to two-five minutes.

Social skills practiced with this activity include listening, following directions, taking turns, ignoring distractions, cooperating, and showing empathy.

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4. Polite Pretend

Kids create a scenario in which they pretend to be someone else like a doctor, teacher, cashier, parent or waiter. Focus on scenarios in which manners should be used and have your child practice being courteous and polite.

Purposely make a statement in a discourteous way and ask your child to repeat it, only this time politely using phrases such as "please," "thank you," and "have a nice day."

Skills practiced with this activity include using manners, cooperating, asking for help, following directions, and taking turns. They also learn to recognize and respond to emotions, listen, de-escalate situations, and adapt to new situations.

5. Building Blocks

Set some ground rules at the start to encourage kids to cooperate and work in unison as they design and build a tower of blocks.

Skills practiced with this activity include: collaboration, effort, taking turns, keep trying, understand, and celebrate each other’s unique abilities.

6. Board Games and Cards

Board games such as Monopoly and Life are especially helpful in teaching children how to lose gracefully.

Practicing losing at home will help prepare them for when they lose at school or on the sports field. When your child loses, be empathetic and say something soothing such as, "It can be hard for all of us to lose sometimes, but there will be other opportunities." 

It's important that the child understand that losing — and winning — is part of everyone’s life. Set a good example for when things don’t go your way, too.

Keep practicing. The more opportunities they have to lose, the better they will become at accepting a loss.

Social skills practiced with this activity include:cooperating with others, listening, following directions, waiting for one’s turn, dealing with losing, expressing feelings, developing empathy, playing with others, and more.

7. Debate

Studying topics, forming an opinion, debating, and listening to opponents help develop the social skills needed to become thoughtful leaders.

Social skills practiced with this activity include managing emotions, engaging in difficult conversations and feelings calmly, building friendships, and speaking well and with confidence.

They also learn to listen with interest and understanding, gain insight from others, develop complex ideas into words, respect the views of others, accept differences, and develop compassion.

Do not try to pressure your kids into doing these games.

Keep in mind that the activities are recommendations and should be tailored to a child’s age and capabilities. Pressure can lead to frustration, which can turn your child off to social skills practice.

Do your best to stay calm and to show vs. tell. In these games, you're showing — not telling — children how to understand the social world.

Typically, first grade is when kids generally start understanding how to play games with rules. Keep the sessions short (start at 5 to 10 minutes for younger children or children who get easily frustrated), unless the child is eager to keep going.

Most importantly, enjoy these social skills games with your children. Fun can be informative too!

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Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., ACCG, PCC founded and facilitates a comprehensive SEL training methodology (#ConnectionMatters) for adults, parents, clinicians, and academic professionals on how to develop critical social, emotional and behavioral skills, in themselves and in others. For more information, visit her website

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.