Social Relationship Skills

What Are Social Relationships?

A child’s ability to build positive relationships with both adults and peers is important to social-emotional development and success in school. Children build social competence through observation as well as by comparing their own beliefs with those of others. The ability to interpret and understand others begins at birth and evolves into a complex “theory of mind”. Theory of mind is the capacity to create theories about what another person might be thinking and to formulate opinions around what might be true or untrue about what that person may be thinking or trying to communicate. Young children demonstrate social relationship skills by connecting, cooperating, caring and responding to the needs of others.

social relationship skills definition from the Experience Curriculum developmental continuum

Why Are Social Relationships Important?

Social relationship skills have their roots in the development of trust and security in a child’s first relationships with their primary caregivers. The ability to recognize, understand and respond to a baby’s signals aids in the development of the powerful first relationship and becomes a necessary regulatory support, helping the child calm herself by meeting her needs.  The infant’s distress activates the mother’s attachment system, which initiates measures toward calming and meeting the infant’s needs. Warm and nurturing caregiver-child relationships support the foundation of a child’s basis of trust and understanding of positive relationships and are highly related to a child’s development of social and emotional skills.

As children develop, they actively seek opportunities to share experiences with peers and others. Through shared interactions, they begin to emotionally connect with their peers and build relationships. Children who attain positive relationships with both peers and teachers are more likely to do well in school.

Children learn to cooperate by interacting and working with others in a variety of contexts. Cooperation skills help children get along with others, take turns, read social cues and problem-solve challenging social situations. 

Children care for and respond to others by showing interest, empathy and consideration for others’ thoughts, feelings and needs. Research indicates that children who respond empathetically to the emotional needs of others are more likely to succeed in the challenging peer arena within schools. 

What Do Social Relationships Look Like?

Children demonstrate social relationship skills by connecting, cooperating, caring and responding to the needs of others. These skills will look different at each phase of the developmental process:

Infants connect and respond to caregivers through eye contact and gentle touch. 

Toddlers greet and stay near familiar people and mimic the actions and facial expressions of others. Toddlers begin to play side-by-side with a new or familiar  person and demonstrate concern for someone who is sad or upset. 

Preschoolers participate in group play and offer to help others through a challenging activity or social situation. 

Primary schoolers describe friendships and other meaningful relationships. They identify the qualities of positive relationships and ways to build them. They describe different types of relationships such as those with family, friends and teachers.

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