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Why Social Skills For Kids Are Important and How to Teach Them

| Why Are Social Skills for Kids Important | Types | How to Teach Children Social Skills |

What Are Social Skills

Social skills are learned behavior that is socially acceptable allowing children to interact with others positively and avoid negative responses​1​.

They are a combination of verbal and nonverbal behaviors that are effective and appropriate in initiating and responding to a situation. They allow an individual to effectively communicate with others while avoiding socially unacceptable responses​2​.

Social skills encompass empathy, communication, generosity, participation in group activities, helpfulness, conflict resolution, and problem-solving. They exclude exploitive, deceitful, or aggressive behavior. 

These skills emerge in early childhood and represent vital elements in the development of one’s ability to form healthy relationships and function within society​3​

four kids hug

Why are social skills for kids important

Social skills are among the critical skills in life. They are an important part of child development. Healthy and positive relationships are built on these foundations.

Research shows that prosocial skills are positively linked to children’s peer acceptance, school adaptation, and academic achievement. They also contribute to a child’s intellectual, behavioral, and social skill development​4​.

Cooperative, helpful, empathic, friendly, sharing and emotionally healthy children are generally more likely to make friends​5,6​.

Peer acceptance allows access to peers in times of need. Healthy friendships with peers are correlated with less delinquency during adolescence​7​.

Some childhood friendships can last for a lifetime.

Social skills deficits can be caused by many factors, including lack of knowledge, practice, feedback, cues, or reinforcement. Prosocial behavior acquisition or display can also be impeded by problematic behaviors.

Those who don’t have healthy peer relationships or have social interaction difficulties are at risk for social-emotional problems and poor academic performance.

Lack of social skills contributes to psychological distress, maladjustment problems, social isolation, and reduced self-esteem which can greatly affect the quality of life in terms of mental and physical health​8​.

In adulthood, social skills deficit is associated with low social competence, involving crime, social anxiety, depression, and unemployment​9​.

Types of social skills for kids

There are five types of social skills that facilitate child-peer interactions and child-adult interactions, according to psychologists​10​

Cooperation

Cooperation includes helping others, sharing toys, following rules, etc.

A child’s cooperation skills require coordination of many social skills. 

Conversation skills, such as proper tone of voice, eye contact, facial expression, and body language, are different forms of communication needed to elicit cooperation. 

Assertion

Assertion involves the ability to ask for information, respond to peer pressure, show firm eye contact, and show confident body language.

Responsibility

Responsibility is taking care of others or their properties. Moral and critical thinking is necessary to make good judgment.

Empathy

Showing concern for others’ feelings requires active listening skills, a positive attitude, and healthy communication.

Emotional skills

Not being able to control one’s emotions makes it hard to be cooperative, assertive, or empathic. Emotion regulation skills are essential to handling interpersonal conflicts, teasing, and corrective feedback without losing emotional stability.

How to teach children social skills

Social skills are acquired through learning processes that encompass observation, modeling, imitation, testing, and receiving feedback​11​.

Parents play essential roles in a child’s socialization experiences being the primary role models. Children begin learning social skills at home through interactions with their parents, through the quality of their relationship with their parents, as well as through parental modeling​12​.

When your child struggles to make friends, it can be heartbreaking. Here are what parents can do to help children develop their social skills.

Warm and responsive parenting style

Studies have found a link between parenting quality and children’s social development.

Children with consistently warm and responsive parents in early childhood are more likely to learn appropriate norms of behavior​13​.

These parents model empathy for others. Thus, children tend to be more cooperative and empathic in these homes​14​.

This parenting style is also associated with better emotional control in children. They have better self-control and can stay calm in handling difficult social situations.

Inductive discipline

Inductive parenting is using reasoning to teach children prosocial behavior. Children internalize social rules and moral values. They develop critical thinking skills and learn to tell right from wrong​15​.

Children who possess more critical thinking skills are more capable of assertively resisting peer pressure and setting personal boundaries against inappropriate behaviors​16​.

Coaching

Set aside regular discussion time to coach children by giving them instructions on skills.

Teaching children general principles of social interaction will help them to behave in an acceptable way in a variety of social situations​17​.

Coaching requires going over hypothetical or past scenarios and teaching children new ways of handling them differently for positive outcomes. 

Children who are older are able to generalize the social scripts to similar situations, making it more effective for them. But it is a less effective tool for children younger than 7 because they have a difficult time applying them to other situations at their child development stage​18​.

Let them play together

Play is a primary activity for kids, especially young children. It is regarded as a key factor in promoting learning and social development.

Pretend play, in particular, has been found to enhance children’s social skills​19​.

It gives children lots of practice in their communication skills. The interaction provides opportunities for reciprocity and complexity.

Children in sociodramatic play create imaginary situations, act out roles and follow rules based on their roles.

Most of the roles children play are those of adults (doctors, drivers, chefs, and others) who engage in behaviors that are socially desirable. When children imitate these behaviors in play, they practice turn-taking, planning, self-monitoring, and reflecting, all vital to prosocial behavior​20​.

Reinforcement

A skill can only be improved by practicing it, but only if feedback is given regarding whether it is successful and what can be done to make it even better. Parents can use positive feedback as a reinforcement for positive social behavior​21​.

Praise your child for sharing or other prosocial acts. Show the child plenty of positive attention in correcting antisocial behavior.

References

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    Elliott SN, Gresham FM. Social Skills Interventions for Children. Behav Modif. Published online July 1993:287-313. doi:10.1177/01454455930173004
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    Gresham FM, Elliott SN. Assessment and classification of children’s social skills: A review of methods and issues. School psychology review. Published online 1984.
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    Lynch SA, Simpson CG. Dimensions of early childhood. 2010;38(2):3-12.
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    McIntyre LL, Blacher J, Baker BL. The transition to school: adaptation in young children with and without intellectual disability. J Intellect Disabil Res. Published online May 2006:349-361. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2788.2006.00783.x
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    Hamre BK, Pianta RC. Early Teacher-Child Relationships and the Trajectory of Children’s School Outcomes through Eighth Grade. Child Development. Published online March 2001:625-638. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00301
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    Zsolnai A. Relationship Between Children’s Social Competence, Learning Motivation and School Achievement. Educational Psychology. Published online June 2002:317-329. doi:10.1080/01443410220138548
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    Beauchamp MH, Anderson V. SOCIAL: An integrative framework for the development of social skills. Psychological Bulletin. Published online 2010:39-64. doi:10.1037/a0017768
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    Gresham FM, Elliott SN, Vance MJ, Cook CR. Comparability of the Social Skills Rating System to the Social Skills Improvement System: Content and psychometric comparisons across elementary and secondary age levels. School Psychology Quarterly. Published online March 2011:27-44. doi:10.1037/a0022662
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    Heyes C. What’s social about social learning? Journal of Comparative Psychology. Published online 2012:193-202. doi:10.1037/a0025180
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    Bandura A. Social cognitive theory of personality. In: The Coherence of Personality: Social-Cognitive Bases of Consistency, Variability, and Organization. Guilford Press; 1999:185–241.
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    Landry SH, Smith KE, Swank PR, Assel MA, Vellet S. Does early responsive parenting have a special importance for children’s development or is consistency across early childhood necessary? Developmental Psychology. Published online 2001:387-403. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.37.3.387
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    Zhou Q, Eisenberg N, Losoya SH, et al. The Relations of Parental Warmth and Positive Expressiveness to Children’s Empathy-Related Responding and Social Functioning: A Longitudinal Study. Child Development. Published online May 2002:893-915. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00446
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    Csapó B. The Development of Inductive Reasoning: Cross-sectional Assessments in an                Educational Context. International Journal of Behavioral Development. Published online May 1997:609-626. doi:10.1080/016502597385081
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    Scull TM, Kupersmidt JB, Parker AE, Elmore KC, Benson JW. Adolescents’ Media-related Cognitions and Substance Use in the Context of Parental and Peer Influences. J Youth Adolescence. Published online October 1, 2009:981-998. doi:10.1007/s10964-009-9455-3
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    Asher SR, Hymel S. Coaching in Social Skills for Children Who Lack Friends in School. Children & Schools. Published online 1986:205-218. doi:10.1093/cs/8.4.205
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    Ogilvy CM. Social Skills Training with Children and Adolescents: a review of the evidence on effectiveness. Educational Psychology. Published online January 1994:73-83. doi:10.1080/0144341940140105
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    Li J, Hestenes LL, Wang YC. Links Between Preschool Children’s Social Skills and Observed Pretend Play in Outdoor Childcare Environments. Early Childhood Educ J. Published online October 9, 2014:61-68. doi:10.1007/s10643-014-0673-2
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    Bodrova E, Leong DJ. Vygotskian and Post-Vygotskian Views on Children’s Play. American Journal of Play. 2015;7(3):371-388.
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    Spence SH. Social Skills Training with Children and Young People: Theory, Evidence and Practice. Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Published online April 1, 2003:84-96. doi:10.1111/1475-3588.00051

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