Teaching Friendly Requests

This is part 2 of our Social Skills for Happy Kids series

Appropriate requesting is a primary goal of any good social skills program, whether for toddlers, teens, or adults.

When your child approaches you and looks at your face, you know for sure that she is communicating with you, rather than talking to herself or someone else nearby. And when she uses words to describe what she wants, she is much more likely to get it.

What if this skill is missing? Focus on three things in order:

  1. Teach your child to move towards you in order to access her favorite things.
  2. Teach your child to look at your face in order to access her favorite things. 
  3. Teach your child to use words in order to access her favorite things.

Step One: Move Towards You

Create motivation for your child to practice with you: observe her free play to learn what she is most interested in and how she prefers to play. Gather the toys and items that she spends the most time with. 

Set up a special learning area that is free from distractions. Bring your child’s favorite things over to the learning area, along with extra treats such as favorite videos or snacks. The learning area should be AWESOME! It should become her favorite place in the house.

Guide your child to the learning area and offer your undivided attention, but avoid giving directions or asking questions. At this point, the goal is just for her to enjoy your company.

If she wanders away, that’s ok! She is always free to leave, but the items must remain in the learning area. Make note of where she goes and what she does. If she looks at or picks up other items around the house, bring those items over: “Let’s play with that over here!”

Do not attempt any adult-led play or instruction until she is approaching the learning area on her own. But once she is happily joining you, it’s time for the teaching to begin! 

Step Two: Look at Your Face

We don’t force eye contact here. However, looking generally toward another person’s face is an important social skill. Your child will have a hard time making friends without it. If she avoids faces, she will miss out on social information such as how people are feeling, what they are saying, and who they are talking to.

The next time your child comes over to the learning area, don’t give her any of the toys or treats just yet. Wait for her to look in your direction. This might take a while. But when she does look at you, even if it is just for a moment, offer her a favorite item and lots of praise. Do this over and over for as long as she is having fun.

As you are first starting, it’s best to offer things you can control. You might end up in a tug-of-war if you try to control favorite toys or books. Set these out of sight for now.

You can remain in charge of small snacks, bubbles, tickles, or short video clips. These all go away on their own, so you can keep practicing the social exchange. She should be thinking, “When I look, good things happen! I want to keep looking.”

Be sure to balance adult-led learning with lots of child-led play. Teach her that you do not ruin her fun. After just a little bit of learning, she is free to do whatever she wants while she sits with you in the learning area. Respect the way she plays and give her lots of attention! 

Step Three: Use Words

This is a more complex skill that will require its own blog post. Stay tuned!

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