Teaching Social Skills in the Primary Classroom

Children learn social skills through direct instruction and through observing how others behave. They repeat the behaviors that bring them rewards and behaviors that they see are rewarded.

The following are tried and true guidelines for teaching children social skills in the primary classroom.

Tell Children What You Expect

Children need to know what teachers expect from them. It is important to set the ground rules from the day school begins. Keep them simple. The following are examples.

-Raise your hand if you want to talk.
-Do not interrupt when other children are talking.
-Do not interrupt when I am speaking.
-Stay in your seats until I give you permission to get up.
-No hitting, yelling, pushing, or biting.
-If another child bothers you, tell me. It’s my job to take care of things like that.
-If you bother another child, you will have a time out.

Catch Children Doing Something Right

When children follow the rules, recognize them for it. Here are some examples.

-“Thank you, Johnny, for raising your hand when you wanted to speak.”
-“Good job, Kylie. Ronald pulled your hair, and you told me.”
-“I can see you really wanted to say something, Jamie. Good for you that you waited until Jackie finished what she had to say.”

In short, when children perform well in classrooms, it is important to praise them immediately.

Under React to Rude and Impolite Behavior

Children can sometimes be rude and impolite. When this happens, under react. Keep your cool. Ask the child to stop the behavior. Immediately name the feeling you think the child is experiencing. Often that is enough. Naming a feeling for a child often calms the child because the child feels understood.

Remind the child of the classroom rules. Gently guide the child to time-out if you have set time-out as the consequence for such behaviors.

Give Brief Explanations About Why Certain Behaviors are Not Allowed

Children may sometime need direct instruction about their behaviors when they do not realize that their behaviors hurt others. For example, you could say to a child, “Do you realize that when you do that, it hurts other people?” Something as simple as that can help children realize that they have to stop doing something.

Simple Group Instruction

Primary school children want to have friends and get along with other children. Something as brief as 15 minute sessions once a week of direct instruction could have life-long benefits for the children and create a safe and enjoyable classroom experience. The following are some topics to consider.

-How to ask someone for something.
-How to say “no” to someone who asks you for something.
-How to accept a “no” from someone else.
-How to thank someone who does something nice for you.
-How to introduce people to each other.
-How to apologize.
-How to admit you did something wrong.
-How to make up for doing something wrong.
-How to accept an apology.
-How to help another child when someone is hurting him or her.
-How to ask someone to stop doing something that hurts or bothers you.
-How to ask someone for help when someone is hurting or bothering you.
-How to listen to a friend who is feeling sad.

To teach these skills, first describe the topic. Then provide a brief description of how to respond. Then role play in front of the children how to respond. Next, have the children role play with each other. Have the children play both roles. Finally, give the children a few minutes to talk about the activity.

Teach by Your Own Behaviors

How you as a primary classroom teacher deal with the children teaches them a great deal about social skills. When what you do makes them feel good, they are likely to imitate you. When they see that you reward the behavior you want, children will want those rewards for themselves. Practice good social skills yourself, and the children will learn from you.


Children learn social skills from direct instruction and from observation. Primary school teachers are positioned to teach children skills they will use for the rest of their lives. In the short term, children with good social skills will contribute to enjoyable classroom experiences for the students and the teacher.