Building Social Skills in Children

If children can be associated with an attribute that comes naturally to them, it has to be innocence. All the other qualities that you might find in a child should have been inherited from the people around him/her. Socialisation is what shapes an individual’s character. So it is all the more necessary to establish social skills early in childhood. Would you not like it if your child perfects the art of entertaining guests?

Social skills encompass a wide range of behaviours that are appropriate and effective in situations of social interaction. To help children develop social skills, you should get them to indulge in social activities. You may start by giving them small tasks such as picking vessels for you in the kitchen, keeping the classroom blackboard clean before the beginning of a period, helping siblings/classmates with homework, etc. that will get them to learn to obey and follow instructions. These kinds of tasks will also help children understand that helping others is a good thing. But then, what is more important is to praise their work. That will encourage them to do more of such work, thus making them participative, as well.

As much as it is important to be encouraged, children must also feel confident to be able to sustain their success. To make children feel confident and get comfortable with people, we need to teach them social skills very early in their life, so that they learn to interact and communicate effectively. Make it a practice to indulge in open conversations with your child/children in your class every day, so that he/she/they realise(s) that you are approachable, no matter what. And, while you do that, you could teach him/her/them a whole spectrum of skills — to participate, share, cooperate, be patient, listen, help others, accept differences, be polite, be assertive, negotiate, apologise, etc. One of the tried-and-tested methods to get children to inculcate these skills is for us to model them at different scenarios. Another way you could achieve this is by sharing stories, screening movies, or engaging children in activities that model the various social skills.

When encouraged, children are pumped up to do some good work. That is the time for you to gradually introduce them to empathy. How do you react when a child expresses anger or disrespect? Studies indicate that children whose emotional needs are fulfilled tend to react less aggressively. However, we must remember to also teach children not to demand things unless essential. How would they know what is essential and what is not? Well, it is up to us, the caregivers, to establish the rules for them in a way acceptable to them and also model good judgment. And then, when children realise that they can bank on their caregivers for physical and emotional support, they develop the tendency to show sympathy to others and help them cope with distress. You could even make your child realise how similar he/she is with the other people around him/her. Kindle the participative nature of your child to get him/her to indulge in group activities and sports, and thus make a lot of friends. It is believed that children develop empathy for people they can easily associate with. Also, once your child starts focusing on others, he/she will be less self-conscious. This will wipe off whatever fear he/she may have. Do get your child to develop the habit of apologising and appreciating, as and when required. You can induct these traits to him/her by practising them yourself. 4-year-old Ashwin learned a few swear words and started using them with his father, whenever the father refused his demands. Should the child be encouraged or corrected for such behaviour? Corrected, of course, isn’t it? Helping children cultivate self-control is as important as feeling empathy for others. Set rules and expectations at home/in the class that would help children become disciplined, and that is enough for them to gradually develop self-control. However, to be able to sustain that, you may have to keep ‘discipline’ interesting for your child. Evolve your strategies as the child grows, to keep him/her interested. You may even recite stories of children whose discipline helped them succeed in their ambitions. It is believed that children with self-control respond to adverse situations with maturity, while the impulsive ones come up with taunts that could hurt the people around them.

A number of factors affect the development of social skills in children. Parenting style and relationship with siblings play very important roles in setting example for children to replicate outside. Children brought up in joint families get to share more than those growing up in nuclear families. So, it becomes necessary for the parents in nuclear families to build situations to encourage their children to inculcate the habit of sharing. It is important for children to be attached to someone at home so that they do not find it difficult to adjust to the complex social system of their school.

At school, and also at home, children need to be provided with ample opportunities to express by writing stories, playing, singing songs, painting, etc. You can plan these as group activities so that children can form groups and coordinate to produce/present something of their choice. The more you keep children in groups, the better they will adapt to sharing and caring for others. When your child is at home, ensure to spend a lot of time with him/her, indulging in activities with him/her. Take him/her to fairs, exhibitions, movies, playgrounds — that will give him/her opportunities to find new interests and make new friends. And if you are a teacher, dedicate as much individual time as possible for each child in your class.