Social skills training is not on the curriculum of most schools, but it should be. Nothing is more important to a child’s success and welfare in life than learning to interact positively with others. A child’s ability to attract and maintain healthy relationships will drastically influence his or her success in love, career, personal health, and spiritual growth.
Since most school systems do not teach social skills, it is up to parents to make sure children learn them initially. Church and kindergarten programs cannot replace the power that parents have in influencing a child’s social skills, although teachers and youth leaders can contribute to this learning. How can parents and teachers help kids learn social skills? Following are some helpful tips.
- Be clear regarding what social skills are, and teach your children why they are important. In general, children need to learn ways to become aware of others, and of how their behavior influences people, so that they can develop empathy. This will stimulate the desire to treat folks with high moral regard, which in turn will feel good inside.
Kids should also be taught that treating others fairly is practical and effective. For example, when you are polite to the job interviewer or bank manager, you are more likely to get cooperation and consideration for any requests that you make. If children learn this, then they are more likely to be polite to teachers and parents, as well as friends who will grow up to become adults in the community. They will be more inclined also to try to communicate when they are upset, instead of acting out.
Finally, children need to learn to set limits and boundaries for their own self-esteem. Learning to respond to the unkindness of others is, unfortunately, another social skill that is required in this world. Children need to learn how to protect themselves without increasing the negative behavior of others.
2.. Set a good example. If your children are behaving in unpleasant ways, you need to assess your own behavior. Are you stressed, under pressure, and possibly expressing negative emotions and unkind words of your own? Do you come home from work and complain about your boss and co-workers, or speak negatively of others behind their backs? Do you take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually? Is your voice polite and kind when you speak to your children, to your spouse, and to others? Are you in the habit of saying things like, “It’s hopeless,” “I just can’t get ahead,” “The world is full of crap,” “They are such idiots!” Check it out. You may think that your behavior is fine, but if you look more closely, there may be a few things that your children are mimicking, albeit in their own, unique ways.
- Talk about it and role-play. Children not only try on behaviors that they observe in the adults around them, they also experiment. If your child says something unkind, try talking about it objectively. For instance, you might point out that “your friend looked angry when you said that, and I wonder if there is another way to say it.” Let your family take turns pretending to be different people, and have a pretend conversation. For instance, you could take turns being the one who is spoken to unkindly, the one who is ignored, or even the one who has all the attention. Let your child role play being in various roles. Ask how it felt to be in this situation, and what could be changed.
Try not to get too moralistic or preachy when children are learning to be social, because it is rare that young children intend to hurt anyone, and lopping guilt on may backfire. They are just experimenting. Help them to do this, to develop empathy by trying on different roles. This technique can also be helpful if your child is the one being picked on by others. Role play with family members can help your child learn various ways to be assertive, and how the different approaches are likely to cause another to act.
- Offer incentives. If your child is older, or is not responding well to social skill development in ways that are more natural (above) try giving him or her incentives. You can do this in two different ways, by taking away privileges when the child acts out, or by offering a treat when he or she behaves as desired.
If you try this approach, it is important to be specific about the behaviors that are expected. For example, you might tell Emma that every time you hear her cussing, she will lose 10 minutes of television or computer fun time. Let her know each time you hear her, and mark it clearly on a chart.
Find a way to balance this by offering a treat for good behavior. Perhaps you could offer Emma an extra 10 minutes of fun time for catching herself before or during cussing. Teach her to say what she is feeling, instead of using cuss words, and reward her for this. Teach her that instead of saying “damn!” she can say, “yikes, that is frustrating,” or some other phrase.
- Believe in your child. No matter how bad any situation ever becomes with your child or children, there is always one thing you can do that will help immensely. Picture in your mind a vision of your child being happy, successful, peaceful, and healthy. Use your imagination to paste that picture over your child’s aura or essence. Ask God to help you do this, to keep that vision alive. Such faith can and does move mountains every day, and there is no better place to put it than in your children.