How To Teach Social Skills To Your Child
Good social skills form the foundation of a child’s personality. Arlene Harris finds out how to teach social skills and why children need guidance from their parents to help them develop these important life skills.
Certain children stand out for various reasons – some may be loud and boisterous, some shy and retiring and others polite and engaging. Most parents would rather their child be known for the latter qualities, but unless they are taught how to interact with both adults and their peers from an early age, these traits can be lacking.
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Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell says we, as parents, are the best teachers our children can have because they start learning from us as soon as they arrive in our world.
How To Teach Social Skills
“Parents are their children’s mentors,” he says. “The values, skills and behaviours that we encourage in our children will guide them into their future and hopefully give them feelings of confidence and competence in study, work and relationships. We begin passing on those skills from the very beginning by making eye contact, smiling and responding in ways, which teach that how we relate to others is important.”
“Later we demonstrate that showing respect for others, good communication skills, a healthy attitude and becoming independent are all the building blocks for competence and confidence. Without being too rigid or having unrealistic expectations of our child, it’s never too early to expect some level of politeness or willingness to share.”
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Social Skills Are A Learnt Skill
The Wexford-based expert says the best way to approach social skills is to firstly remind ourselves that they are precisely that; skills to be learnt. “Social skills are developed over time and with guidance,” he explains. “A parent can start with their very young child by using welcoming smiles and the power of the human voice to demonstrate respect and patience. This is the beginning of teaching manners as well as attention.
“Later, encourage politeness and cooperation around sharing and when rules are necessary, such as in games and when safety is an issue. If children learn about cooperation in the safety of a loving and flexible relationship, they can apply that learning to crèche, school and activities without feeling that rules are to be taken personally or having to struggle with appropriate authority.”
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“Parents can encourage good communication skills by having family discussions about ordinary things and allowing your child to express anger in a healthy and safe way at home. Explore the scenarios and morals you and they encounter in books, films and in their friendships to allow them to express their feelings and points of view.”
A Guide To Social Skills
Not all social skills can be taught at once, but Maxwell offers a guide as to when and how children should behave in a certain way.
- Early childhood communication is touch and play, then gurgling, pointing and babble and some discernible single words. I wouldn’t encourage parents to bang on about please and thank you at that stage or expect it to be spoken until after 18 months.
- Encourage your child by using please and thank you in a gentle and kind way. Be playful in your modelling of early social skills by saying the magic words in a sing-song voice. Try to always use please and thank you in your interactions with your very young child.
- Parents can encourage eye contact by mutually gazing with a very young child during feeding. Tell your young child how beautiful their eyes are and how you can see their smile in their eyes too. Don’t force eye contact especially if your child has a neurological condition, which makes this uncomfortable. Do say ‘I can tell that you hear me when we are looking at one another’ or ‘I missed what you were saying because I can’t hear you as well when you look away while talking.’
- Sharing is a tough set of skills to learn. I would ask all parents to remember how difficult it would be to share a prized possession – then put yourself in the child’s shoes. They have less life experience and practice at giving up something or trusting that it will ever be given back to them.
- Start early by encouraging sharing with a child. You could spontaneously say ‘Would you like some of my dessert?’ or encourage them by saying ‘I bet your sister/brother would love one of those sweets or to hold that toy.’ Children are more likely to understand sharing of toys and in games when they have experience of a playful adult getting down on the floor with them or assisting in an outdoor game until they have other children to play and share with.
- Another social skill is learning to accept different emotions. Parents can encourage this important skill by rewarding appropriate expression of feelings such as just commenting ‘Sam, you look so cheerful today!’ or ‘Ciara, you seemed annoyed during that game, what was happening?’
- Model contentment for what you have with your child and they are more likely to show appreciation themselves for simple things – like seeing the fun of a mucky-rainy day or a trip which didn’t involve something expensive or high-tech. Encouraging optimism and allowing your child to generate their own solutions to a problem before you offer your solutions strengthens their sense of independence and the ultimate social skill: self–regulation.
You Have To Stick To It
Anna Riordan knows only too well the negative result of not teaching her daughter how to behave and now that her little girl is almost six, learning basic social skills has become more difficult.
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“I was very busy when my daughter was a baby and didn’t spend enough time with her,” admits the 42-year-old. “Then because I wasn’t at home very often, I felt guilty and would compensate by letting her have whatever she wanted. “I can see now, that by not insisting she said please and thank you, tidied up her toys, ate her food or even played nicely with friends, I did her a disservice.
“I was made redundant a year ago and it has really shocked me that while I was working, I neglected to teach my daughter how to behave and am now having a very hard time trying to drum it into her. But I know it’s my own fault and for her sake, and mine, I will keep going until good manners become an instinct for her.”
Social Skills Last For Life
Psychologist Peadar Maxwell, says learning social skills at a young age is very important and will help children to feel happier and more confident in later life.
“Our inner sense of how competent we are and thus how confident we feel is based on how we think we can manage in a variety of situations such as being dropped off at a busy crèche, a noisy birthday party, a new school or being minded by someone who is not our parent,” he explains.
“Social skills teach cooperation and kindness, but equally those same skills are part of being able to express our feelings and preferences and saying what we need and want: Equally important skills.
“Children who have the skills to relax and enjoy positive interaction with others are usually more able to handle or report uncomfortable situations to their parents.”
Have you got any tips to share on teaching social skills? Let us know in the comments.