Most children develop social skills much like ducks learn to swim. Simply by being immersed in interactions with others they learn how to interpret messages they receive from other people and to respond appropriately. From birth most babies are hard-wired to focus on, interpret and respond to social interactions from others. Some children however find developing these skills challenging and require specific support to learn how to interact well with others.
Social skills are important in speaking with others, sharing activities, taking turns, developing friendships and relationships. They are important at home, at school, in the community and in play situations. Children who have difficulty interpreting social information, thinking in social way and responding appropriately in social situations often have difficulty making and maintaining friendships and being accepted by their peers. This can impact on emotional development and educational success. If social skills continue to be an area of difficulty, adult relationships can also be affected.
Many children with disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, communication difficulties and attention deficits may find developing social skills difficult. Research has shown that without effective teaching of social skills to children with social skills difficulties these children are at risk of emotional and mental health problems as they get older. The need for friendships and the need to feel accepted by others is significant in every child’s development.
The good news is that social skills can be taught. While some children don’t just absorb social skills from interacting, they can learn these skills with specific teaching.
Here are some things that families can do to help children develop these skills:
1. Help your child learn how to talk about their feelings. Let your child know that it is okay to be sad or angry and that this happens to everyone at times. Watch your child's behaviour and give them a word for the way they are feeling. Link it to their experiences. "I can see you feel angry that your sister broke your car". Talk about your own feelings openly too when appropriate so they can see that talking helps people manage their feelings.
2. Give your child opportunities to play with others. Children these days have less opportunities to play unsupervised with friends and neighbors. It is important that parents make time to provide their child with opportunities to play with others. Structured activities such as sports and clubs are good but include less structured activities such as play dates, or a picnic in the park with other families so that children learn to play spontaneously, negotiate and problem solve.
3. Model appropriate social behaviours for your child. Allow your child to see you managing feelings and social situations well. Think out loud about how you are managing your feelings, "I am angry about the errors in this electricity account, but I will ring them and speak calmly about it". Explain your reasoning around social interactions "It is a lot of work to have Aunt June over for dinner but she really likes to have some time out of the nursing home".
4. Allow your child the chance to make age-appropriate choices. Allowing your children to make decisions some of the time (such as whether to do the the park or the beach) means that they will have a sense of control and be more likely to behave in an appropriate way and be accepting of times when they are not able to make a decision (such as going to the dentist). Choices also help to learn about consequences of decisions, such as choosing the beach on a cold day may mean no swimming.
5. Develop your child's confidence. Confident children tend to relate in a more positive way to others. Give your child honest feedback about their efforts and successes, encourage them to try and let them know that everyone makes mistakes at times.
6. Develop your child's problem solving skills. Don't jump in and fix everything for them straight away. Ask questions, describe the problem and help them suggest solutions.Talk through together the likely outcome of each solution and help them choose the best option.
7. Allow your child to practice social skills in real situations. Teach your child how to answer the phone, ask for directions in the shopping centre, order a drink at the cafe and then let them have a try at doing it. Let them know what they did well and what to try differently next time and encourage them for having a go.
Does your child need extra help with social skills. The team at Talking Matters will be offering the “What’s the Buzz?” program inthe January holidays to school aged children, to help develop social skills. If you think this program would benefit your child find out more here.
If you would like further information about developing social skills why not check out some of the resources on our website or have a look at the related posts below. You might also like to download our free feelings book to help your child learn to understand their feelings and those of others.
Talking Matters provides speech pathology and occupational therapy services to kids of all ages in Adelaide, South Australia. To find out more about our team and what we do browse our website and see how we can help your family.
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