Social skills, like other skills, require teaching. We can set children up for success not only though numbers, shapes, and reminders to look both ways before crossing the street, but also through showing them to how be a friend. How do we, as care-givers, help children see each other as playmates and friends?
Puppet games can provide a non-threatening and safe space for children to practice friendship skills. With puppets, children can try out social behaviors, and you, as carer, can help encourage healthy interaction. The first step is for children to see friendship modeled between puppets. This is where you get to be creative: use stuffed animals or make puppets from paper bags or popsicle sticks—anything will do! Then, tell your child (or children) stories of the puppets as friends. Where do the puppet friends go together? What do the puppet friends do together? What happens when one of the puppet friends gets hurt? What happens when each of the puppet friends wants to do different things or wants the same toy?
After playing out different scenarios, the next step is to have the child play an active role in the drama. Take away one puppet and have the child step in as the puppet’s friend. Go through the same situations: where will you go together and what will you do together? With puppets, children can practice the building blocks of making friends: introducing oneself, apologizing, and sharing. If the puppet falls down, we ask the puppet if it is okay. If we hurt the puppet, then we apologize. If the puppet wants some of our play dough, then we share. As the puppets bob up and down, children further internalize what it means to be a friend.