At this early age, some children may have a hard time knowing how to interact with others in a socially appropriate manner, and how to recognize another person’s feelings and needs.
Social awareness is the ability to take the perspectives of others and apply it to your interactions with them. It is also being aware of socially acceptable behavior.
For example, your child may not fully understand why a classmate gets upset if she doesn’t share a snack with them. By making new friends, and interacting with others, your child is learning how to play with other children, share, and respect their needs and space. While these interactions help build your child’s social skills, you play the greatest role in her emotional development. You can help improve your child’s social awareness by being supportive and leading by example.
What Does Social Awareness Look Like at This Age?
Children of this age are learning how to identify what others are feeling based on their facial expressions and body language. As your child interacts with her classmates and teachers, she is gaining a better sense of other people’s emotions, perspectives, and behaviors.
During this phase, your child is learning that others have different points of view and that these differences may have consequences in her interactions. She is also gaining a better understanding of the social norms of behavior, like staying quiet during story time or lining up with the other students during lunch time. Young children need a lot of reminders on the road to becoming socially aware, so don’t expect to see your child displaying much of this skill on her own.
Tips to Support Social Awareness
Try Role-Playing With Your Child
Begin by naming feelings like happy, sad, or tired, and take turns with your child acting them out and guessing what emotion is being shown. Director of the Rutgers Social and Emotional Laboratory Maurice Elias suggests that you choose a new feeling (such as angry), and ask your child to think about someone who is angry and what might make them feel that way. Ask her how she can tell when someone is angry. If she does not seem to know, point out the facial expressions or postures that denote anger (as well as other feelings you might choose).
Use Story Time to Develop Your Child’s Social Awareness
You can read books like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, with your child. As you go through the story, stop and point out the feelings or reactions of the characters and ask your child how she would feel or what she would do if she were in a similar situation. Ask her how the actions of the characters in the books made others feel, and have her act out those emotions. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam adds that it is very important to use the illustrations in the books to develop your child’s social awareness. High-quality children’s books tend to have very expressive illustrations, like the drawings in author Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie books.
Talk To Your Child About Real-Life Social Interactions
Highlight a conversation you had with a friend, family member, or clerk at the supermarket that happened while your child was present. Ask her to describe the words, body language and facial expressions that were exchanged. Ask her what she thought the other person felt at the end of the conversation, and tell her to use her stuffed animals to show you what she would have done in that situation. Neurologist Judy Willis suggests that you have a few cues that remind your child of what behavior is best for a situation. For example, if she is going with the family to a wedding, remind her that it is a place for her “inside” or “library” voice even if it is outdoors.
Ask Your Child About the Behavior and Feelings of Pets
Tom Hoerr, the head of school at New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, recommends that you talk to your child about empathy by asking how a pet might be feeling. For example, you can ask her about how the family dog may be feeling after not getting a treat or when she is reprimanded for jumping on the couch. Neurologist Judy Willis adds that it is also good to ask your child about the consequences of your pet’s unintentional actions, and relate it to the unintentional actions of younger children who might take her toys or demand her attention.