What Are Social Skills
Social skills are learned behavior that is socially acceptable allowing children to interact with others positively and avoid negative responses1.
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 responses2.
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 society3.
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 development4.
Cooperative, helpful, empathic, friendly, sharing and emotionally healthy children are generally more likely to make friends5,6.
Peer acceptance allows access to peers in times of need. Healthy friendships with peers are correlated with less delinquency during adolescence7.
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 health8.
In adulthood, social skills deficit is associated with low social competence, involving crime, social anxiety, depression, and unemployment9.
Types of social skills for kids
There are five types of social skills that facilitate child-peer interactions and child-adult interactions, according to psychologists10.
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 involves the ability to ask for information, respond to peer pressure, show firm eye contact, and show confident body language.
Responsibility is taking care of others or their properties. Moral and critical thinking is necessary to make good judgment.
Showing concern for others’ feelings 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 that encompass 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 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 behavior13.
These parents model 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. They 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 who possess 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 in an acceptable way 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.
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 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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