How to Improve Children’s Social Skills
What are social skills?
Social skills are everyday skills which we use to communicate and interact with those around us. They are vital for allowing children to maintain positive interactions and relationships with others. Social skills include both verbal and non-verbal communication techniques including speech, body language and facial expressions.
Children naturally adapt and respond differently to situations and having good social skills is a key benefiting factor in how children behave in varying situations. Children with strong social skills will be able to respond and act appropriately in different situations.
A study conducted by Vanderbilt University found that the top 10 social skills needed by children to succeed in school are:
- Listening to others
- Following rules
- Following steps
- Ignoring distractions
- Asking for help
- Taking turns to talk
- Getting along with others
- Stay calm with others
- Being responsible for their behaviour and actions
- Doing nice things for others
Why are social skills important?
Social skills are very important in all aspects of life, but teaching children to work on their social skills from a young age play a huge part in the person they become later in life. It is important to teach children social skills to aid them in appropriately responding to different situations and allow them to be strong, independent and mindful throughout their lives.
Social interactions do not always run smoothly so it is important for children to learn the skills needed to effectively deal with altercations and social interactions that may not go as planned.
Improving Social Skills through Play Dates
One of the best ways to develop social skills in children is through play dates. Playdates are a crucial part of growing up and are a great way for children to interact with peers, learn new skills and improve their social skills. For some children, playdates can be rather intimidating if they do not have the correct social skills set to deal with them. Whether children have strong social skills or are lacking in them, a playdate is a great way to develop their communication skills.
Play dates introduce the concept of following rules, taking turns and being kind to guests. Use a playdate as an opportunity to go through different activities before hand and have your child offer his/her guest activities to pick from. Have them each pick different activities, to avoid altercations and help teach compromise.
Before a playdate, adopt the following strategies to ensure your child is prepared for the social situation they will be faced with and do not get overwhelmed:
- Teach empathy: Go through different scenarios by asking your child how they think other children might feel when certain things happen, substituting different scenarios each time and giving advice and building on their social skills in order to respond in these situations effectively.
- Practice social approaches: Teach your child proper ways in which to start conversations with peers, how to get someone’s attention when needed or how to join a group of children whom are already playing together. This prepares them for situations outside of playdates and teaches them how to effectively act and behave in social situations especially important for starting school.
- Explain personal space: Practice acceptable ways of interacting with peers during playtime and explain that it is important for people to have personal space so they feel comfortable in new situations.
- Practice taking turns: Play with your child prior to the playdate practicing taking things in turn and having manners to wait, take turns and share in different situations.
A combination of the lessons learnt and practiced prior to the playdate, and the skills developed throughout the playdate, is a great start in improving a child’s social skills. The skills attained during a playdate are transferrable social skills which children will continue to use in social situations way past the days of playdates and set a good foundation for how children act later in life. Cementing key social skills are practices at an early age equip children with manners, morals and skills needed to correctly deal with situations throughout their lives.
Additional activities for improving Social Skills
Children’s TV programmes:
Children’s TV programmes will help your child to recognize facial expressions and body language associated with certain social situations. Watching how fictional characters respond and act in social situations will help children to determine correct ways of interacting with peers.
Activities and games:
Playing games like follow the leader are a great way to reinforce social skills like following rules, listening to others and being responsible for their actions. Children need to follow the rules of the leader by listening to them carefully in order to stay in the game. They will learn they are responsible for their actions and if they do not follow the leader then they are out of the game.
Apps and online games:
In a digital world like today, there are hundreds of apps and online games which have specifically been designed and created in order to improve social skills of children and help them learn social skills in a more subconscious way.
Some great apps to try are ‘Model me going places’ and ‘how would you feel if’. Both of these apps help develop social skills of children whilst still maintaining a fun element which children will enjoy.
Reinforcing social skills
It is important to reinforce children when they behave in a correct manor and enforce the social skills you have taught them. Reinforcing social skills mean children are much more likely to actively start to implement these skills in their everyday lives.
Positive reinforcement doesn’t have to be extravagant gestures or prizes every time your child shows a positive behaviour, constant simple reinforcements like positive affirmations work just as well.