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Inside: Social skills activities for kids and social skill games, too. Including social story books and the different types of social skills we can help our kids develop.
A common worry we often have as parents is whether our kids are fitting in and making friends.
When they start school, we ask questions like, “Are they making friends?”, “How are their listening and communication skills?” and the question most of us ask at one time or another, “Are they where they’re supposed to be socially?”
Here’s the bad news:
Social skills don’t come naturally to every child.
But here’s the good news:
There are many ways we can help our kids with social skills, and these social skills activities for kids are the perfect tools!
What are social skills?
Social skills are skills humans use to communicate and connect with one another.
These skills include verbal and non-verbal skills such as gestures, body language, and personal appearance. (We humans are very social and have developed many ways to communicate.)
We use these skills to communicate messages, thoughts, and feelings with other people.
Basic Social Skill Categories
There are five basic social skill categories. (Young kids often need a little help learning all these different verbal and non-verbal skills, and fun social skill activities will often help in many of these areas.)
Basic Communication Skills
Basic communication skills include listening, following directions, and avoiding speaking when we are expected to be quiet.
Good listening skills are demonstrated by paying attention, and people show attention by nodding their heads, smiling, and responding to what is being said.
You use simple body language, such as making eye contact, physical stillness, and emotional attentiveness when listening to the person speaking.
Empathy and Rapport Skills
Empathy and rapport social skills include providing support for others, feeling sadness and happiness for others, and building meaningful relationships.
Building rapport allows for both personal and/or professional relationships to form.
Interpersonal skills include sharing, joining activities, asking for permission, and taking turns.
Interpersonal covers pretty much any skill that deals with interacting with others. Think asking questions and sharing details.
Problem-solving involves asking for help, apologizing to others, deciding what to do, and accepting the consequences.
These skills are needed for conflict resolution, figuring out how to deal with social challenges and situations—understanding a situation, identifying problems, considering solutions, and choosing the best way to handle different social interactions.
This social skill is all about taking ownership of your actions.
We need to be responsible for ourselves and willing to accept the consequences of our actions or lack of effort.
Some of the more specific social skills we could work on with our kids include (oh, and snag a free PDF of this list right here):
Social skills activities for kids
Let’s face it, long after kids finish preschool, their social skills still need some fine-tuning (and in some cases, a LOT of fine-tuning).
Children develop social skills by being in different social situations. But for some kids, even after experiencing many different social settings, they still need a little help.
Enter: Social skills activities and games.
Social skills activities for kids are fun, easy to implement, and extremely helpful: at home and in school.
So let’s get to it: 16 social skills activities for kids.
1. Simon Says
Skill Building: Communication and following directions
This simple and timeless game is a perfect way to help a child with basic communication skills.
(And it’s perfect if you are looking for social skills group activities.)
The players must obey all commands that begin with the words “Simon says.” If Simon says, “Simon says touch your nose,” then all players must touch their nose. However, if Simon says “jump” without saying “Simon says,” first, the players must not jump. If they do jump, that player is out until the next game.
The ability to listen to directions and pay attention to specifics are both practiced in this social skill game!
2. Board Games
Skill Building: Communication, following directions, and working together
You can use almost any board game to help social development.
Children practice taking turns, conflict resolution, accountability, and more!
Note: I really recommend the cooperative games from our best of the best board games list. Cooperative games are especially great for social skills.
3. Emotions Charades
Skill Building: Basic communication and self-regulation
This is one of my favorite social skills games for kids!
Not only can I stomp my feet and make faces in front of my kids, but I can teach my children so much about social skills!
Move over Uno, and make room for the Feelings Flashcard Deck.
This set includes 28 feelings cards to help kids recognize emotions and express how they are feeling in a more appropriate manner. Learn more here.
Everyone loves a good game of charades, and helping children understand facial expressions is a big part of social skills.
Write a bunch of different emotions on slips of paper and have your child (or you) act out each one and try to guess what feeling is being shown!
Studies suggest that kids can improve their ability to read facial expressions (with practice). Here’s an article to further help. See these Parenting Science social skills activities for teaching kids about faces.
You could also play this fun Feelings Bingo Game as an alternative to the Emotion Charades.
4. Role Play
Skill Building: Communication, problem-solving, being kind, making decisions, sharing, self-regulation
Imaginative play is a huge part of childhood development.
So not only do kids find this super fun, but it also gives them a safe place to practice real-life situations.
A few examples of social situations you could role-play are:
- Asking to sit with a friend at the lunch table at school
- Asking a friend to play during recess
- Confronting a friend cheating in a game
- How to handle when your friends won’t listen, share, or play
- Going to the doctor
- Meeting a brand new friend
Conversation Starters for Kids and Families
Use these conversation starters to help get and keep the conversations flowing!
If your child is struggling with certain social situations, role-play the situation and practice the correct social response or help them learn how to control their response.
6. Feelings Wheel
Skill Building: Accountability, empathy, self-regulation, and communication
Helping your child figure out their emotions during the day can help them react more positively in certain social situations.
A feelings wheel is a popular psychology tool that can help uncover those hard-to-reach feelings.
Learn more about how to bring a feelings wheel into your house in this blog post.
You can also take advantage of our Feelings Wheel printable posters in the shop:
7. Team Sports
Skill Building: Communication, following directions, accountability
Remember when I said preschool soccer is like herding cats?
That’s still 100% true, but it is also a great way to let your child practice social skills in a chaotic and/or competitive setting.
So many kids (and adults) are ultra-competitive (think sore losers). Signing your kids up for a team sport can teach valuable lessons about handling loss, being a good team player, and developing friendships.
Kids learn so much from their coaches and teammates!
8. Personal Space Bubbles
Skill-building: Non-Verbal Interpersonal Skills
One of my favorite ways to teach kids about personal space is to use visual cues.
I like to get a couple of hula hoops and set them on the floor. Both you and your child then stand in the middle of your hula hoops. This is a great way to demonstrate the personal space bubble every person needs.
You can also hold a beach ball between you and your child to demonstrate the appropriate amount of space.
9. The Telephone Game (A+ in social skills activities for students)
Skill-building: Communication, working together, following directions, and listening
This is a game for a small or large group of kids. Have the kids line up or make a circle. Whisper a sentence into the first child’s ear; then, they whisper this sentence to the next person in line or the circle. The whispering continues until you reach the last child. This child will say the sentence out loud to the group. Kids will be amazed at how the sentence changes.
This is a fun game to teach kids important listening skills.
10. Acts of Kindness Challenge
Skill-building: Empathy, being kind
Kindness is an important social skill (you may not have thought of) that plays a huge role in creating a positive environment for all.
When our kid’s first reaction is kindness, they can better share, work together, express differing opinions, regulate when upset, and help others in need.
Kindness is another skill that isn’t always abundant in young kids (between the hitting, I hate you’s, and miiinnnnee).
But here’s the good news:
We can encourage kids to develop this skill through fun kindness-building exercises.
We have a free Acts of Kindness Challenge Poster you can get here.
This free bundle includes the kindness calendar pictured above, our Kindness Rocks Activity Challenge, and our inspirational ’77 Ways to be Kind Poster’.
11. Social Stories
Skill-building: Communication & problem-solving skills
Social stories use short descriptions written from a child’s perspective to prepare and guide behavior when reacting to real-life situations.
You can read social stories for just about any common situation, from crossing the street to playing with friends in the schoolyard.
What Comes Next has some great free social stories you can print out.
The social story pictured below is from our Mega Emotions bundle; you can learn more here.
12. Friendship Similarities
Skill-building: Communication & Empathy
This is a fun game for kids to play to break the ice when meeting new friends.
Kids take turns telling fun facts about themselves. It could be anything from “I have a dog named Polly” to “I love pizza!” When someone tells a fact that another child also feels similarly about, they can jump up and say, “Me, too!”
They can begin to notice how other kids are similar to them but also different.
13. Write a Thank-You Letter
Skill Building: Communication, being kind, and empathy
Teaching kids to be grateful can hugely impact their behavior (and happiness).
Have your child or student write a thank-you letter to someone (it can be anyone: a coach, friend, teacher, parent, or neighbor).
These thank-you letter templates are included in our Giant Gratitude Kit for Kids!
Expressing gratitude can help us appreciate the people around us and the good things in our lives that we get to experience and do.
You could also have your child or student write an apology letter and explain the difference (and importance) between a real apology and a fake apology. (Because I know we’ve all heard the forced and bitter “I’m sorry” from our kiddos.
14. Eye Contact Games
Skill-building: Non-Verbal interpersonal skills
Not all kids are comfortable making eye contact — especially if they have autism. But there are a few fun ways we can encourage kids to make eye contact:
- Have a staring content
- Look in My Eyes Engineer is a game (available on IOS devices) that has kids practicing making eye contact; they won’t even know they are learning an important social skill.
- Eyes on my forehead – place a stocker of a pair of eyes on your forehead and encourage kids to look at the sticker. It helps train them to look in the proper direction in a funny, not uncomfortable way. (Idea from Children Succeed)
15. Perspective Scenarios
Skill-building: Empathy, being kind
I love using perspective-building scenarios to help kids realize that the world doesn’t revolve around just them. (Shocking, I know.)
Kids often don’t understand that others have their own viewpoints, which might differ from theirs.
Discuss certain situations with your kids or students and discuss how the other person might have felt. Some examples of common situations
- A friend insults another boy in class about his shoes. What might this boy be thinking? Feeling?
- A parent is sick with a cold and cannot play with the child as they normally would. What might the parent be feeling? How might the child help them in this situation?
- Your brother or sister just got in BIG trouble and can’t have ice cream for dessert. What do you think they are feeling? Do you think they are sad? Sorry?
16. What’s a Good Friend Look Like?
Skill Building: Communication, sharing, being kind
Watch this video with your kids or students and then discuss together what it means to be a good friend.
After watching the video, take a few minutes to discuss the main points:
- What did they learn about what being a good friend means?
- Practice one of the skills in the video (practicing being an active listener is a great one to discuss or try).
- Try sharing or listening out with one of your friends at your next encounter.
Are there more social skills games for kids?
These are just a few of the many examples of social activities!
Social skills books for kids
Picture books are an absolute favorite in my house, and I love how in an unassuming way, they can teach children so much on so many topics.
Reading is a great thing to incorporate when thinking about helping your child understand social complexities.
Here are some of the best social skills books for kids!
1. The Whatifs By Emily Kilgore
Cora was always worrying about everything.
This worry makes the Whatifs absolutely love her!
They sneak up on her and gift her all kinds of doubts, whether big, small, silly, likely, or impossible!
She is preparing for her piano recital, and the whatifs are clinging to her!
Will she be able to change her thoughts into hopeful ones?
2. Little Blue Truck Makes A Friend By Alice Schertle
Someone is new on the farm, and all the animals are nervous and excited to meet the new animal.
Wondering things like what will he be like?
Does he neigh or oink?
Will he have fur or feathers?
Does he like to swim?
But making new friends can be scary, but being kind and helping others is the right move.
Blue knows just what to do to help his old and new friends feel at home!
3. What Can I Say?: A Kid’s Guide to Super-Useful Social Skills to Help You Get Along and Express Yourself; Speak Up, Speak Out, Talk about Hard Things, and Be a Good Friend By Catherine Newman
Middle school is a difficult time for every preteen and teenager!
They are really practicing their social skills, including how to get along, talk about hard things, be an ally, and a good friend.
This book helps teenagers learn how to talk.
Each page has an easy script and guidance about the right thing to say in all kinds of situations.
It discusses how to be inclusive, listen, give advice, argue, stick up for yourself, ask for help, and how to turn down a date.
It also shows teenagers how to express sympathy, deal with offensive comments, respond to bullying, and be trustworthy.
4. I Walk With Vanessa, and I Forgive Alex By Kerascoët
These two books help all children learn how to deal with difficult events in their lives.
From bullying to forgiveness, these books have no words and allow children to focus on the pictures and discussion that comes from looking closely at each illustration!
5. Those Shoes By Maribeth Boelts
All Jeremy wants is a pair of the new shoes everyone in school is wearing!
They are a “want” and not a “need,” though.
When his old shoes fall apart at school, he is determined to get those shoes, and even when a thrift store pair is too small, he still must have them.
Jeremy soon realizes sore feet are no fun and that helping a friend is more important.
Sharing a book with your child is a great social skills activity to help them start to understand all the different things that go into making friends, showing empathy, and figuring out exactly how to interact with people their age, younger and older.
6. Social Skills Activities for Kids: 50 Fun Exercises for Making Friends, Talking and Listening, and Understanding Social Rules
What are the Dos and Don’ts for making and keeping friends? How can you decode body language clues? What’s the best way to keep a conversation going? Just like learning multiplication tables, social skills don’t come naturally―every child has to learn them. Luckily, this book makes mastering social skills super fun with 50 awesome activities.
7 Social Skills for Kids: Over 75 Fun Games & Activities for Building Better Relationships, Problem Solving & Improving Communication
Why do kids struggle socially?
First, you must remember that many kids struggle socially.
They are just learning how to interact with each other, and social skills and social cues are often hard for the littlest of humans to understand.
Just think of all the times you read someone’s body language wrong or felt a little nervous or unsure of a new social situation.
But, if you feel your child is struggling socially, there may be several reasons. Let’s look at a few of those reasons in more detail.
(Remember, always discuss any concerns with your child’s doctor.)
1. Lack of Knowledge
Your child may be unable to acquire basic social skills because of a competency deficit.
Lack of knowledge is often seen in children with autism, pervasive developmental disorders, and other developmental deficits.
Children may have deficits in all five social skills types (basic communication, empathy/rapport, interpersonal, problem-solving, and accountability) or in one or two areas.
2. Inability to Perform
Sometimes a child knows how to perform a social skill but is not sure how exactly to implement it or perform the skill.
This issue may be caused by limited practice or when a child isn’t given feedback.
3. Internal Factors
Something inside the child may make them unsure about social interactions and situations, such as trauma or anxiety.
4. External Factors
If the environment around the child is chaotic, like a crowded playground, trampoline park, or preschool soccer practice (believe me, those practices are like herding cats), children can feel very stressed.
These types of environments can cause social anxiety or nervousness in the child.
Looking at all the different factors before worrying about your child is always important.
Remember, your child’s doctor is always there to help you and hear your concerns.
Social skills for kids with special needs
Social skills are important to help your child be successful in life!
They will encounter many social situations, from school to jobs and family/friend relationships.
Social skills are essential to help us bond with others.
A child with special needs may have difficulty learning social skills and forming new friendships, which can become stressful for parents and sometimes a little scary.
There are ways you, as a parent, can teach and encourage your child!
You always want to try to keep the conversation going with your child.
The more comfortable a child is with communication, the easier social skills will be with new friends or unfamiliar people.
Show good communication skills. Keep eye contact, show emotion, and ask questions.
Asking questions will help teach your child listening skills.
Children with special needs may sometimes have trouble expressing emotions.
Really at some point in their life (often during the toddler/preschool age), all children have this type of difficulty.
But, if your child struggles with identifying and expressing their emotions, you can help them become more aware.
Find different ways to bring feelings into games like charades and bingo, and find the match.
These games are fun ways to help them identify and introduce different emotions.
3. Help Out
Your child may need a little “push” to make new friends.
Being a little scared, self-conscious, or having low self-esteem can prevent a child with special needs from making the first move.
Support your child by making playdates or having them participate in different events where children their age will be there.
Use the child’s strengths to help create the playdates and ensure a comfort level.
If your child loves to read, take him to the library and join storytime.
If she loves to run around, maybe a trampoline park or a playground is the right spot.
Bringing your child around others with similar interests will make it easier for them to find everyday conversation.
Social-emotional development can be challenging for children with special needs.
Still, as a parent, you can always try to find ways to help your child become a little more comfortable in social situations.
I love this Social Skill video by Myles Marks!
Final thoughts on social skills Activities For Kids
Social skills are essential for children, teenagers, and adults.
So when looking for social skills activities for kids, look for ways to help your child understand social cues and situations and create healthy relationships throughout their life.
And remember, every child is different, and some kids will prefer to play alone or will get angry more often than others.
Your child is unique.
Make developing social skills fun by bringing in games, books, and activities to help them develop!