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Every day we use our social skills—whether it’s to communicate with our boss, our coworkers, our family, or our neighbors. Social skills describe the behaviors we use in different social situations, like problem-solving, conflict resolution, relationship management, empathy, plus verbal and nonverbal skills. These skills are best developed at a young age so children have time to strengthen their skillset and use it in practice. These behaviors will help children make friends, learn good sportsmanship, and handle bullying.
Personality and Social Skills
Learning and developing social skills does not imply that your child needs to be a social butterfly. Each child has a personality that will affect the way they socialize with others and, naturally, they won’t excel in each area of socializing. However, some difficulties, like peer rejection, anger, and poor academics may be a result of underdeveloped social skills. No matter the age of your child, you can help them develop their social skills.
Why Develop Social Skills
Besides being able to better handle difficulties, when people develop social skills they increase their chances for relationship and career success. This is because social skills help you feel comfortable collaborating with others to accomplish tasks by sharing ideas. They also help people accept the idea of positive and negative feedback and it provides them with the confidence they need to move on from potential rejection. These situations are key for working with people and accepting rejection whether romantically or professionally. It can be hard to watch your child experience these things—so the best thing you as a parent can do is help them gain the social skills they need.
Age and Social Skills
Helping develop your child’s social skills doesn’t need to be something you put pressure on. Remember, kids need to learn by repetition, so it could take a while for something to stick. Plus, the social skills they develop will also depend on their age. Children less than three should be able to begin making eye contact and initiating social contact by saying hi, while children who are about four should begin to learn how to take turns. As children age, they’ll begin to progress naturally, and with help from their parents to learn fair play, to use manners, and to begin empathizing with others.
Ways to Develop Social Skills
If you notice your child is having a hard time developing a certain social skill, use games to help them. For example, if your child has a hard time making eye contact, initiate a staring contest. If they don’t seem to be able to identify their own emotions, make faces or use smiley cards to help them understand different emotions through facial expressions. This will help them later to identify if they are sad or upset.
Some social skills are tough to make into games and are better taught. However, you don’t need to wait for your child to mess up to teach them a lesson—they will probably feel embarrassed and won’t listen to your teaching. Instead, if they are preparing for a play date, have a practice playdate where you help them practice personal space, getting others’ attention, and sharing.
If you have an only child or there is a large age gap between siblings, it may be wise to give your child a new environment to develop in, like a preschool or daycare center. Similarly, for children with autism, ADHD, or other special needs, you may consider enrolling them in occupational therapy for children. Changes in a child’s environment can help stimulate new behaviors and help them feel more independent.
Your child needs to build a social skill set to succeed and the best way to teach them is to use them yourself. Be an example by making eye contact, sharing, and helping problem solve. While it may not seem like your children are listening or watching, when you change their environment, chances are they’ll follow your example.