What Are Social Skills
Social skills are learned socially acceptable behavior, allowing children to interact with others positively and avoid negative responses1.
Social skills are a combination of verbal and nonverbal behaviors appropriate for initiating and responding to a situation. They allow an individual to communicate with others while avoiding negative responses effectively2.
Social skills generally emerge in early childhood. They encompass empathy, communication, generosity, participation in group activities, helpfulness, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.
Why are social skills for kids important
Social skills are among the critical skills in life needed in child development. They are vital in forming healthy relationships and functioning within society3.
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-emotional development4.
Children who are cooperative, helpful, empathic, friendly, sharing, and emotionally healthy are more likely to make friends5,6.
Having friends to count on when you need them is essential. Healthy friendships are correlated with less delinquency during adolescence7. Some childhood friendships can last for a lifetime.
Having difficulties with social skills can come from a variety of reasons, like not knowing how to act in social situations, not having enough opportunities to practice, not getting enough feedback, not being able to understand the cues others are sending, or not getting enough positive reinforcement for doing the right thing. Problematic behavior can make it harder for a child to learn and show prosocial behavior.
Kids who struggle to make friends or interact with peers are more likely to have emotional and social problems and poor academic performance.
Lack of social skills contributes to psychological stress, maladjustment problems, social isolation, and reduced self-esteem, which can greatly affect the quality of life in terms of mental and physical health8.
In adulthood, social skills deficit is associated with low social competence, involving crime, social anxiety, depression, and unemployment9.
5 Types of social skills for kids
Psychologists have identified five types of social skills that can facilitate interactions with others10.
Cooperation includes helping others, sharing toys, following rules, etc. It enables children to work together in a team, take turns, and problem-solve to achieve a common goal.
Teamwork is the cornerstone of cooperation, teaching children the value of working with others and understanding that their efforts are more powerful when combined.
Taking turns is also an important part of cooperating, as it allows children to practice patience and respect while ensuring everyone can be heard.
Good conversation skills, like using the right tone of voice, making eye contact, showing appropriate facial expressions, and using body language, helps to get others to work together with you.
Cooperation skills can help kids build relationships and interact more effectively with those around them.
Assertion involves the ability to ask for information, respond to peer pressure, and be confident to express one’s opinions and feelings in an appropriate way.
For example, it may be difficult for young children to assert themselves if other kids in the playground bully them. It is important for them to be able to stand up for themselves without resorting to physical aggression while being respectful and having self-control.
Responsibility is taking care of others or their properties. Moral and critical thinking is necessary to make good judgments.
Empathy is a key social skill for children to develop to better interact with those around them. It is the ability to understand, share the feelings of another person, and show concern for others. It requires active listening skills, a positive attitude, and healthy communication.
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, including observation, modeling, imitation, testing, and receiving feedback11.
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 modeling12.
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 indicated 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 behavior13.
These parents model showing empathy for others. Thus, children tend to be more cooperative and empathic in these homes14.
This parenting style is also associated with better emotional control in children. Children have better self-control and can stay calm in handling difficult social situations.
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 wrong15.
Children with more critical thinking skills are more capable of assertively resisting peer pressure and setting personal boundaries against inappropriate behaviors16.
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 acceptably in a variety of social situations17.
Coaching requires going over hypothetical or past scenarios and teaching children new ways of handling them differently for positive outcomes.
Older children can generalize the social scripts to similar situations, making them more effective. But it is a less effective tool for children younger than seven because they have a difficult time applying them to other situations at their child development stage18.
Let them play together
Pretend play, in particular, has been found to enhance children’s social skills19.
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 behavior20.
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 behavior21.
Praise your child for sharing or other prosocial acts. Show the child plenty of positive attention in correcting antisocial behavior.
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