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Whilst we know a key focus of primary school is developing academic skills such as numeracy and literacy, promoting social-emotional skills across these years remains integral in the development of the next generation of socially competent and successful young people.

Here are some practical strategies to help build social resilience in your child.
  • Modelling and reinforcing the skills you want your child to develop is very important, including social skills, problem solving, motivation and effective communication6. By identifying and explaining your emotions in an age-appropriate way, you can show your child that it is acceptable and necessary to talk about how we are feeling. For example, by saying “I’m a bit annoyed because the car pulled out in front of us which was dangerous. I wonder if they are in a rush or not thinking about what is happening around them?” versus an obvious alternative, you can identify how you are feeling and model compassion for other people too.
  • In conversations with your child, emphasise the importance of persistence. While it is important to debrief events from the day, encourage them to look forward towards what is next. Asking questions like “What are you going to try next?” or “What is coming up that I can help you with?” are important, rather than playing the blame game with the past.
  • Model and practice these skills with your child. To begin with, you may need to provide very clear structure and prompting (e.g., “Stop. I don’t like it.”). With time, incorporating some other skills mentioned here, and lots of practice8, it might eventually sound like; “Please stop doing that. I don’t like having a ball thrown at my face. Can we roll it together instead?”. Encouraging siblings to have a go at solving the conflict together before seeking an adult mediator will help build these assertive communication skills too.
  • Although life is busy and often stressful, lean into the small, daily opportunities to show your child how you are thinking and feeling. For example, sing along to favourite songs together in the car, re-visit books together that were once read regularly, or enjoy a special food together. Use conversation to highlight what you noticed about the activity, for example, “I loved reading the book because it reminded me about when you were very little, and I watched you learn things so quickly”. Incorporating rituals of connection into habitual family routines can help to strengthen the parent-child relationship and a child’s understanding of the emotions of other people11.
  • Whilst watching videos or movies with your child, incorporate small but meaningful conversations about what you are watching. For example, asking about how a character felt after something happened and being detectives to find clues about how you know this (e.g., facial expression, what they said, imagining how they might feel based on what has happened) will help not only their comprehension, but also their ability to understand the perspectives of other people.
  • Using a warm and encouraging tone, explore with your child what happened throughout the day. Rather than just asking “What did you do at school?”, build on this by asking things like, “Tell me about what you did at recess time, did you try anything new?” or “When your friend wanted to play handball instead of chasey, how did that make you feel?”. Listen actively and reflect what they are saying back to them. After validating their emotion, incorporate ideas of scenario problem-solving or role play to develop ideas of what to do next time. For example, saying things like, “It sounded like you weren’t sure what to talk about while waiting in the line for handball. Let’s make a list of things you could say and then we will have a practice and play so you can hear yourself saying it” may help them to initiate conversation next time with less worry.
  • Often, games13 are designed with a learning goal in mind and the opportunity to practice new skills in a non-threatening context. Games may require children to follow social rules14 to advance the game (e.g., asking politely, using an appropriate tone of voice, standing an appropriate distance apart, waiting your turn), see situations from multiple perspectives, and actively work with others to solve problems. You could also create a scavenger hunt game which requires talking with other family members (via facetime if required) to find people who match certain prompts (e.g., someone who speaks another language, someone who is born in December). As with any activity, reflective discussions are essential for maximum benefit so that children can apply the learnings from the game to their real-life social interactions.
  • When possible, support your child in fun recreational or after-school activities15. Remember, it isn’t important how many goals they shoot, what belt they get in karate, or always winning; it is more about their desire to try new things and persist despite challenges.



1 Hoffman, K., Cooper, G., Powell, B., & Benton, C. (2017). Raising a secure child. Guildford Publications.

2 Van Harmelen, A., Gibson, J., St Clair, M., Owens, M., Brodbeck, J., Dunn, V., et al., (2016). Friendships and family support reduce subsequent depressive symptoms in at-risk adolescents. PLoS One, 11. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153715

3 Rutter, M. (2012). Resilience as a dynamic concept. Development and Psychopathology, 24, 335-244.

4 Durlak, J., Weissberg, R., Dymnicki, A., Taylor, R., & Schellinger, K. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82. 405-432.

5 Eickers, G., & Prinz, J. (2020). Emotional recognition as a social skill. The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Skill and Expertise: Fridland, Ellen & Pavese, Carlotta.

6 Rizkalla, L., Wertheim, E., & Hodgson, L. (2008). The role of emotion management and perspective taking in individuals’ conflict management styles and disposition to forgive. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1594-1601. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2008.07.014

7 Bogolyubskaya, L., & Khukhlaeva, O. (2019). Research on the relationship between formation of psychological boundaries and assertiveness in primary school children. Psychological Science and Education, 24, 42-49.

8 Hoyte, F., Torr, J., & Degotardi, S. (2013). The language of friendship: Genre in the conversations of preschool children. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 0, 1-15.

9 Lally, M., & Valentine-French, S. (2019). Lifespan Development: A Psychological Perspective. California: Creative Commons.

10 McDonald, N., & Messinger, D. (2011). The development of empathy: How, when and why. Free will, emotions and Moral Actions: Philosophy and Neuroscience in Dialogue.

11 Stewart, D., & Sun, J. (2004). How can we build resilience in primary school aged children? The importance of social support from adults and peers in family, school and community settings. Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health, 16.

12 Besi, M., & Sakellariou. (2019). Transition to Primary School: the importance of social skills. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 6.

13 Zheng, L., Oberle, C., Hawkes-Robinson, W., & Daniau, S. (2021). Serious games as a complementary tool for social skill development in young people: A systematic review of the literature. Stimulation & Gaming, 1. doi: 10.1177/10468781211031283

14 DeRosier, M., & Thomas, J. (2019). Hall of Heroes: A digital game for social skills training with young adolescents. International Journey of Computer Games Technology. doi: 10.1155/2019/6981698

15 Gray, J., Galton, M., McLaughlin, C., Clarke B., & Symonds, J. (2011). The supportive school: Wellbeing and the young adolescent. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press.

16 Hirschstein, M., Van Schoiack Edstrom, L., Grey, K., Snell, J., MacKenzie, E. (2007). Walking the talk in bullying prevention: Teacher implementation variables related to initial impact of the Steps to Respect program. School Psychology Review, 36, 3-21.

17 Wolf, S., Reyes, R., Weiss, E., & McDermott, P. (2021). Trajectories of social-emotional development across pre-primary and early primary school. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 75.