Every parent wants their child to grow up and flourish in the world, but before they can run towards achieving their greatest goals, they must first learn to walk towards them by developing their social skills. Kids need to develop many social skills that will help them better connect and understand the world and people around them. Supporting your child’s personal growth through engaging in social skills for kids activities will help them put one foot in front of the other before they take off in a full sprint.
What Are Social Skills?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), social skills are "a set of learned abilities that enable an individual to interact competently and appropriately in a given social context." This means that any skill that helps your child engage and communicate with others.
Importance of Social Skills for Kids
According to research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are many benefits associated with kids developing and practicing social skills. Some of the benefits include:
- Increased academic performance
- Higher rates of peer acceptance
- Increased rates of mental health
- Higher rates of face-recognition and joint-attention
- Increased rates of understanding other’s perspectives and behavior
Important Social Skills for Kids to Develop
As a parent, you may be wondering about what social skills are the most important to teach your child. The reality of it is that this idea of what’s most important may vary from person to person depending on what you value most, as well as whatever social skills you have already noticed developing in your child. That being said, there are some core social skills for kids you may want your child to develop.
Treating Others With Kindness and Respect
One of the most important social skills you may want to teach your child is the Golden Rule of treating others how you yourself would want to be treated. This involves teaching your child about showing kindness and respect towards others, whether they be friends or strangers. Some ways kids can practice kindness and respect are:
- Allowing others a chance to take a turn to talk/share
- Not yelling at others when they become upset
- Understanding that it’s not appropriate to harm other people’s property
- Asking kids/adults to use their toys, food, etc.
- Respecting the boundaries of other kids/parents
Understanding and Accepting Differences
Kids are egocentric, especially at young ages, which means that it can be difficult for them to understand that their thoughts, feelings, and experiences are subjective and unique to their own lives. When your child goes out into the world, it is likely that they are going to meet people from different cultures, religions, traditions, and more, which is why it’s important for them to learn about acceptance. Some ways for kids to practice accepting differences are:
- Not getting upset at someone just because they have different hobbies/interests
- Being willing to play with others even if they come from a different background
- Learning more about the different cultures of people in their class
- Standing up for others if they are teased for being different
It’s normal for parents to want their kids to form strong bonds with their peers and to feel emotionally supported and connected with people around them. But, before your child can start to bond with their friends, they first need to learn how to make them. There are a lot of social skills that kids can learn from friendship-making, such as:
- Finding people that make them laugh and that they are happy to be around
- Learning more about their own likes and interests
- Understanding how to resolve conflict and practicing problem-solving
- Sharing with others
- Learning about new perspectives
- The importance of teamwork
- Knowing how to act and cope with being around a group of people
Standing Up for Themselves
Some studies have found that kids know what is fair and unfair as early as ten months of age, which means that children are aware of instances where they are being treated poorly. Teaching kids that they have autonomy and deserve respect will set them on the path of being able to stand up for themselves. Make it clear that standing up for yourself doesn’t mean causing physical or emotional harm to another person, and that it has to do with addressing others’ inappropriate behavior. Knowing how to stand up for themselves teaches children:
- That it’s okay to let others know that their actions were harmful
- To share their feelings with adults and other peers
- That it’s important to call out unfairness they see or experience
- That they have a voice and can use it
- That they are just as important as everyone else
Communicating Their Thoughts, Feelings, and Needs
Communication is a very important part of how people connect with one another, build trust, and create friendships. When children are in new environments or around new people, they may find it difficult to let others know what they want or feel, which can lead to conflict and cause children to become upset. Learning communication skills can benefit children by:
- Allowing them to introduce themselves to others and make friends
- Helping them ask for things from teachers, such as food or a break
- Giving them words to better explain and understand their emotions
- Allowing them to ask for help whenever they need it
- Helping them practice saying ‘no’ and setting personal boundaries
Empathizing With Others
Teaching kids about empathy is important because it allows them to practice seeing things from a different perspective, as well as shows them that they have the power to comfort others when they are in distress. Empathy teaches kids to be compassionate towards their peers, and in return can even reduce a child’s own distress just by helping another person. Empathy may help a child:
- Better understand the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of others
- Respond appropriately toward someone that is in distress
- Practice kindness
- Create stronger friendships
Adapting to Change
Children face a lot of change throughout their lives, particularly as they grow up and experience changing classes, teachers, schools, and maybe even homes more than once as they grow up. This can be a difficult thing for them to cope with, and lead to confusion and frustration due to nothing feeling stable. Helping kids practice adapting to change may benefit them by:
- Allowing them to embrace the difference as a new and exciting opportunity
- Encouraging them to the explore new things with open curiosity
- Decreasing the amount of sadness or frustration they experience when they encounter change
- Helping kids develop their own coping strategies
How to Teach Kids Social Skills
There are many different ways to teach your children about social skills and help them develop into well-rounded human beings that are ready to make friends and take on the world. There’s no right or wrong way to teach your child social skills, but there are some ways that may help you aid in their development.
If there is a certain social skill you want to teach your child about, such as respecting others, then a good place to start may be by talking to your child. Explain to them what respect is, and why it’s important for them to show it to others. During your conversation, you can give examples of ways to show respect, and take turns modeling the behavior towards each other by allowing each person to speak and noting how it makes you feel.
Work Through Exercises
There are plenty of easy and cost-efficient social skills activities for kids. Practicing these exercises will help your kids develop a wide variety of skills, such as sharing, introducing themselves to others, and working with others. Some simple exercises include:
- Playing Jenga and practicing appropriate responses whether they win or lose
- Using red light, green light as a way of working on listening skills
- Playing hot potato and talking about sharing
A fun way for your child to practice building social skills may be by diving right into playdates with other children their age. This will give your child hands-on experience introducing themselves to new people, agreeing on what games to play/activities to do, and experience being around other peers and adults that are not their parents. Observe the playdate, and use any conflicts that arise as learning opportunities for your child to practice empathy and problem-solving.
Engage in Shared Activities
If you don’t feel like scheduling a play date is right for your family, that’s totally okay. You can practice some social skills activities with your child at home by having your own ‘playdate’ of sorts with your child. Engaging in a shared activity, such as playing a board game together or painting is a great way of practicing joint-attention. Whatever activity you engage in with your child can teach them how to respect others’ interests, sharpen their attention skills, and come together with others to make group decisions.
Helping Kids Develop Social Skills
Developing social skills for kids is a long and ongoing process that they will continue to experience and grow from into adulthood. Social skills are an important thing for children to know in order to help them communicate with others, build friendships, and treat people with respect. Parents may find some social skills to be more important than others, and it’s normal to have different goals for your child depending on your family’s own unique situation. Whatever social skills activities you are practicing with your kids will help their personal growth and development, and strengthen their ties to the world around them.