Help your child to act in positive social ways.

How to Influence Pro-social Behavior in Children

by Erica Loop

Whether your child is struggling to share, can't seem to take turns at preschool or is getting in fights on the grade school playground, you can help her to turn her poor social behaviors around. Instead of giving up and letting your little one run loose, help to keep her in line by teaching her a lesson or two on positive ways to act socially. Parents can influence their kids' pro-social behaviors by modeling acceptable actions, setting rules and consequences and even role playing social types of situations with them.

Model appropriate pro-social behaviors for your child. Find a social situation that allows you to point out your positive actions to your child. For example, if you want to watch your favorite reality competition show on television, but your husband wants to watch a ball game, show your child how the two of you can use "nice" words and come to a compromise without screaming or acting aggressive. Use everyday situations to influence pro-social behaviors on a regular basis to help your little learner to understand what you expect of her.

Set rules and provide consequences for negative social behaviors. Explain what you expect of your child in clear language that she can easily understand. The specifics will vary depending on your child's age. For example, toddlers may still struggle with sharing or using emotion words instead of hitting or biting. Expecting your toddler to always share her toys 100 percent of the time isn't necessarily reasonable, but insisting that she use her words first -- or face the consequences -- is needed. Tell your child one specific consequence for each negative social behavior -- such as a time out for your preschooler when she takes a toy from her baby brother.

Role play social situations. Your child may not have a full picture of what you expect from her socially. Role playing can help your little one to better understand how she should act around friends and other people. Act out a social scene or engage in a pretend play scenario such as making a faux dinner in her dress-up kitchen. Guide your child toward pro-social behaviors as you move through your role play scene, such as using an appropriate amount of give and take while talking or sharing toys or other items with her.

Play board games. Board games encourage your child to take turns, pay attention to the other players and wait her turn.

Remind your child of times when she has felt socially isolated, sad or frustrated by a friend. Tell her that her behaviors influence other people. Ask her to remember the last time when another child made her feel bad. This can help to make her more empathetic towards other kids' feelings.


  • Sign your child up for a team sport. Helping her to play with other kids, moving toward one specific goal, can help her to build pro-social skills.


  • Avoid shaming your child. While it's perfectly acceptable to correct her poor social behaviors, don't make her feel like she is "bad" or not a good person.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

  • Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images