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10 Strategies to Support Your Child’s Budding Social Self

The first six weeks of school can often be trying times, as students navigate the world of new and established friendships while at the same time adjusting back to the daily routines of life at school. Though multi-age classrooms provide Montessori students with relatively stable social cohorts, a new group of first year students coupled with a summer’s worth of growth and maturation still causes a shift in dynamics at the start of each new school year. When you also consider the fact that these students are working their way through the Second Plane of Development, and focused on making sense of their social world, you’ll understand why Montessori teachers devote so much time during these first six weeks to social-emotional learning and community building.

If you have a child this age, they likely come home with dramatic retellings of the day’s events, which might call to mind the familiar passage from A Tale of Two Cities that begins, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” It is truly a turbulent time, but we like to think that with the right support at school and at home, it can also be a really exciting one.

Here are ten strategies you can try at home to support your child’s budding social self:

  • Practice active listening skills together. Start by asking an open-ended question. Restate your child’s response and ask a follow up question. Have your child practice doing the same with you.

  • Discuss body language and its role in communication. What does eye contact signal to the person you’re talking to? What about crossed arms?

  • Ask your child to retell a challenging social situation they’ve encountered recently. Role play the situation and see if you can work together to determine another way to navigate it.

  • Brainstorm a list of questions to ask to get to know someone better. Ask your child to pick three to try out at the lunch table the following day and report back about how it went.

  • Remind your child to be respectful of personal space and boundaries. Elementary aged children have wildly different preferences around personal space, and it’s very important to teach them to ask their peers about their preferences before initiating any physical contact.

  • Discuss humor together, and the difference between laughing at someone and laughing with someone. Remind your child (and yourself!) that the Elementary years are the formative ones in terms of a person's sense of humor, and the only way to get better at humor is to practice. As such, this stage of development is full of humor misfires, which can quickly lead to hurt feelings—so it’s key to give children this age permission to try, fail, apologize, and try again.

  • While you’re at it, practice communicating hurt feelings to a peer using an “I Statement”: “I felt hurt when you said my shirt was the color of rotten bananas, because I chose it myself and I really like it. Next time can you keep that thought to yourself?”

  • Practice empathy while you’re reading a bedtime story. Ask your child, “How do you think this character is feeling right now? Why?” Empathy is a key factor in developing strong emotional intelligence.

  • Talk about how to disagree respectfully. During the early Elementary years, it’s hard for children to imagine anyone not sharing the same opinion as they do, and they often take it personally when they disagree with a peer. As they build a more sophisticated understanding of perspectives, they are better equipped to have (and enjoy having!) lively discussions around differences of opinions. However, it’s never too early to practice using phrases like, “I respect your idea, but I have a different one. Here’s why”.

  • Support your child’s friendships. Recognize that they will have ups and downs with friends (sometimes many ups and downs in the same day!), but remain a neutral sounding board and troubleshooting partner for your child. As their most trusted source of guidance, they will follow your lead, and these Elementary years run a lot more smoothly when they can count on your impartial feedback and reassuring support.

As is true in supporting all aspects of life at school, the home-school partnership is key in helping children develop and navigate healthy social relationships. If you have concerns at any time, please reach out to your child’s teachers.

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