It’s commonly assumed that children gain social skills from being in school. But this is not entirely the case; mature social competence is learned from being around mature social adults as well as other children, in a variety of settings.
We also need to be clear about what we mean about social skills. I imagine most parents want their youngsters to be able to function confidently in social situations, be liked and have friends, know what behaviour is appropriate in a given situation, and be able to converse and make suitable responses to others.
With that aim in mind here are few ideas to think about when guiding this process;
- The greatest influence on children’s social development is the demonstration of the adults around them, particularly those whom they are closest to.
- Children’s social competence develops enormously through the opportunity to converse with others, particularly adults. So involving them in a mix of social situations, groups and activities aids this process.
- Also, our personal or private conversations with our children, particularly about other people’s behaviour, social codes, bullying, or their social observations, can help them understand and learn what’s appropriate and what isn’t. They need to feel they can safely talk about things.
- Youngsters don’t need to be forced into interaction; this doesn’t help particularly if they are shy. Their social skills will develop naturally as they gain confidence with others and have the opportunities to practice in a variety of situations. Our encouragement and own consistent demonstration helps them overcome shyness.
- Children gain confidence with others by watching how we do it and by having chances to interact in situations where they’re not threatened, embarrassed, ridiculed or put on the spot before they’re ready. But their confidence will fluctuate as they grow and go through changes, especially teenhood. Our guidance and support is crucial through difficult times of their maturity. They need to feel we are entirely on their side.
- Everyone wants to be liked. The basis of being liked lies in how we behave. So it helps that children understand this, understand how their actions affect others, and how this influences what other people feel about them. They need to be mindful about how they come across and how others might perceive them, as part of their observations and growing understanding of social interactions. Talking about these things increases their awareness of the complex relationships that are a natural part of our everyday lives.