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In this lesson, we will define social skills and their development during childhood years. We will also go over why social skills are so important for children, and what strategies are used to teach them.

What Are Social Skills?

Social skills are ways of dealing with others that create healthy and positive interactions.

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Children who have social skills can communicate clearly, calmly, and respectfully. They show consideration for the feelings and interests of their peers. They take responsibility for their actions, are able to control themselves, and are able to assert themselves when needed.

Children learn social skills through experiences with peers, examples and instructions from their parents, and time with adults.It is vital for children to use social skills because they are the route to creating and developing relationships. They are needed for enriching social experiences, and they lessen the chance for negative interactions. Being the building blocks for friendships, social skills give children the chance to learn from their peers and learn how to be considerate with those they meet in the future. By having a positive impact on life experiences, social skills also give children a sense of confidence and mastery over their environment.

Social Development

Children come into the world immediately relying on others. Several months after their birth, they begin to be aware of themselves as individuals, with personal wants and needs. They are also bonding with their family, prefer them over strangers, and feel anxious when they are separated. Infants may watch other infants at a distance, but once entering preschool, are given their first opportunities for similar-age social interactions.This is also the time when children slowly become accustomed to separating from their parents.

Over the next couple of years, children begin recognizing the desires and feelings of other children. They are given the chance to learn how to see things from another perspective and to take turns, as well as compromise. When development goes as it should, and children are instructed accurately, they continue growing their social skills.

Teaching Strategies

Some children tend to gravitate naturally towards healthy social interactions, while for others it may not be so easy. But in all cases, it is the combination of both healthy development and learning that cultivates those skills. The good news is that even when children are struggling with social skills, there are many tools parents and teachers can use in order to help them develop. Let’s review some strategies that teach children about the skills and how to use them.

Provide Opportunities for Social Interaction

First and foremost, children need to learn through experience how to interact with others. They also need to have the chance to practice the skills they learn. It is good for parents to invite other children to the home, and provide outings for parents and their children. Outings are especially important for children who are homeschooled. There are few strategies as useful for teaching social skills as giving a child hands-on experience developing them.

Teach to Use Words Rather Than Actions

Children can be emotional and lash out physically with aggression or frustration. They need to learn how to calm and control themselves, and then how to find words to express how they feel. If a child cries or lashes out, the parent can calm him down and ask him to share what he is thinking.

It is important for the child to learn how to voice what he feels rather than becoming aggressive.Parents can encourage their children to share with them and to ask for what they need. Parents can then talk with the child about his requests. When discussion is promoted, it can teach the child how to communicate with others.

For example, instead of a mother responding to a child, ‘You aren’t doing (this or that), because I said so,’ she could explain some of the reasons behind her decision.

Discuss Difficult or Negative Social Experiences

When a child is picked up from school upset because of a negative social experience, parents have the chance to show that they care by initiating a conversation about what happened. For example, if a father sees his daughter is upset about a friendship, he can ask her what happened and then add any insights for how the interaction may improve. Perhaps his daughter was not kind to the other girl and needs to apologize.

Perhaps she needs to see things from the other person’s perspective, and the father can help her do that. Or perhaps she needs to know that she has done nothing wrong, and she has the right to ask for respect. Of course, parents can use wording that is appropriate and understandable for the age of their child.

Encourage Consideration for Others

If a parent or teacher sees a child take a toy from his or her friend or sibling, it is important to use that opportunity to teach the child to be kind and wait for his or her turn. They can explain that we need to share, and children can learn that life isn’t all about their desires, but it’s also about the wants and needs of others.

Praise the Use of Social Skills

Whenever a child is considerate of a peer, shares feelings calmly, or interacts in other positive ways, they should be praised for it.

It’s useful to say things like, ‘Good job, Cassie. It was so nice of you to give that stuffed animal to Peter!’ or ‘Thank you for sharing your feelings with me, John.’ By receiving positive feedback, children are encouraged to keep up their skills and be open to learning more.

Be an Example

Children are often watching parents and teachers, even when they are not aware.

Sometimes they want to imitate adults and they will pick up words they use or actions they repeat. So it’s always important for authority figures to know they are a model for children. If a child, for example, watches her mother yell and scream at her husband, the child may do the same thing with her friend at school the next day.

In order to teach good social skills, parents need to display healthy interactions with each other, especially in front of their children.

Lesson Summary

Social skills are healthy ways of relating that promote positive interactions with others. They include actions like taking turns, asserting oneself when it is appropriate, communicating clearly, and showing respect for others. Children learn about social skills through the instructions of authority figures and experience with peers.

Adults can teach these skills through strategies including creating opportunities for interactions, praising the use of social skills, inviting discussion of experiences, encouraging children to verbalize feelings, and serving as an example.

Learning Outcomes

When you are done, you should be able to:

  • Explain what social skills are
  • Recall the importance and purpose of social skills
  • Describe how children develop socially
  • Discuss how adults can help teach and guide children as they develop their social skills

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