Social skills are fundamental when it comes to successfully interacting and getting along with others. They are required at every age to achieve personal happiness and success in school, life, and relationships.
As a parent, I found it much easier to help my kids with their social skills when they were cute, little toddlers on the playground. As they grow older, and their social lives become increasingly complex, more thought and attention is required to help them work and play well with their peers.
To help identify the areas your child may need assistance in, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) divides social skills into the following categories:
Here are some techniques I use to improve my school-age kids’ social skills:
Kids will do as you do rather than do what you say, so I always reflect back on my own behavior and habits when my kids present challenging behavior. In fact, we have a points chart for all family members in our home, and if either my husband or I demonstrates “bad" behavior — such as shouting or being very critical — the kids get to knock some points off from our tally.
While I would love for my kids to always be the model of good social behavior, not all kids are adept at mastering every skill. Take baby steps. For instance, my second grader got into the habit of bragging about his accomplishments. We explained to him that instead of bragging, he needed to give someone a compliment every day. While it was hard for him at first, I can see that it comes so much more naturally now. He’s among the first kids to congratulate a team member on a goal scored or tell me that he really likes something I cooked.
It helps me calm down when I remind myself that a social skill is just that — a skill that must be practiced just like learning to play the piano or tying shoelaces. Be prepared to repeat yourself, and present many opportunities to help your child practice the skill. Remember: A deficiency in social skills is not a reflection of your child’s character or your parenting.
Sometimes, kids need a model for how to practice a particular behavior, and it helps when an example is pointed out to them. For instance, my seven year old son was participating in a food drive at the local grocery store but did not quite know how to approach people. An older boy kindly partnered with him and showed him how to make a polite request. They did it together several times until my son gained the confidence to try it out for himself. Whenever we see somebody displaying good social behavior, my kids, husband, and I point it out to each other and use it as an opportunity to learn.
The guidance counselor in your school may hold group sessions to help kids deal with peer pressure and other social challenges. When my son had trouble making friends in his second grade classroom, I, as well as his teacher, were able to get some great suggestions from the guidance counselor.
Any type of team activity where kids need to work cooperatively with others is a great way to build social skills. For instance, team sports, Girl and Boy Scouts, and Lego Leagues all provide ample opportunities to discover the joys of helping others for the greater good.
We’ve all been in situations where it is hard to share or to have good manners in the face of rudeness. Practicing social skills is certainly not easy, so it’s important to acknowledge your child’s efforts when you see them. A little praise goes a long way!
The Internet is a big part of kids’ lives, and becomes more so after middle school It’s important to prepare them for good digital citizenship. I tell my kids they ought to display the same good manners online as they would when talking to someone in person. As they get older, I will start emphasizing the following:
Stay safe and avoid strangers online.
Be careful with what you share because incautious words and pictures last for years on the Internet, and can spread uncontrollably and be seen by people they were never meant for.
Report bad behavior and meanness on the Internet when you see it. Unreported bullying behavior can have enormous consequences, including kids taking their own lives.
For more information on keeping netiquette, check out our article: How to Keep Your Pre-Teen Safe on The Internet
Kids with good social skills are confident and composed in any environment, leading to a positive outlook, less anxiety in new situations, and the ability to make friends easily — all good things to have on your side in the rough seas of life. It’s certainly worth spending the time and attention to equip your kids with them.
Social Skills: Promoting Positive Behavior, Academic Success, and School Safety. (2002). Retrieved October 14, 2014 from the National Association of School Psychologists
Kennedy-Moore, Eileen. What are social skills? (2011, August 18). Retrieved October 14, 2014 from Psychology Today