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Using Children's Books to Teach Social Skills

Children's Books that Teach Social Skills

Picture books are a wonderful vehicle for boosting children's social skills. Through stories, children learn valuable lessons in character, such as honesty, bravery, and loyalty. Story characters model how to make friends and solve conflict. Picture books can even help children understand difficult social concepts, such as homelessness.

When choosing picture books, seek out those that are well-written and beautifully illustrated. In general, look for books that teach concepts naturally and gently, rather than through a didactic approach. Make sure the length of the book and the content are suited to your child's developmental level.

As you read picture books, go slowly and ask questions occasionally. During a reading of Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, for example, you might ask, "How do you think Percy is feeling? Do you think his mom will come back? What should they do?" Tie the story back to your child's experiences. "This reminds me of the time you fell down on the playground. You felt sad and scared, didn't you?" Be prepared to read a story more than once. In fact, reading it several times will deepen your child's understanding.

Ways Children's Books Teach Social Skills

Below are just a few of the social/emotional concepts children can learn through picture books. We've added some of our favorite titles to get you started.

  • Friendship and cooperation. Numerous picture books gently explore the themes of making friends and working together. Leo Lionni's classic story, Little Blue, Little Yellow explores the ideas of friendship and separateness. His book, It's Mine cleverly illustrates the potential consequences of selfishness.
  • Exploring emotions. Good fiction - at any level - allows the reader to gain greater perspective of her own challenges and experiences. Picture books can help children understand and master negative feelings, such as fear, sadness, loneliness, and anger, while appreciating positive emotions. A few of our favorites include Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, The Little Old Lady Who Wasn't Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, and Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger.
  • Family dynamics. Reading books about families broadens children's understanding of the roles families play. Use books to explore the universal themes of sibling rivalry, family togetherness, or even family transitions. In Bunny Cakes, by Rosemary Wells, Ruby tries to bake a cake while dealing with her brother Max's lively antics. Too Many Tamales, by Gary Soto, beautifully portrays the fun (and potential trouble) of a large extended family celebration.
  • Building empathy. Picture books can introduce surprisingly complex themes. In The Tooth, by Avi Slovdovnick, a young girl encounters a homeless person for the first time while on a trip to the dentist. The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi, explores the feelings of embarrassment that a Korean girl feels over her name as she seeks acceptance from her American classmates. 

Check out our Growing Readers website for more great books for children and our Reading Aloud to Children webinar.

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