Social skills are the skills we use to get along with other people. Often we take our social skills for granted, without recognising how complex they are. Much of what your child learns occurs in a social situation so these skills are necessary for the effectiveness of their education and, consequently, their self esteem. A lack of social skills can emphasise low self esteem, which in turn compounds the anxiety when interacting with others or in unfamiliar environments.
A socially stable child will be comfortable in various situations so they’re able to learn and enjoy more. A certain amount of shyness or cautious reserve is fine when a child is first introduced into a new social circle or unknown environment. It becomes a problem only if it impacts on their ability to make friends or benefit from fun or educational opportunities.
Some of these skills needed are very basic, for example, smiling and making eye contact, even very briefly, or simple acquired manners such as saying hello and good-bye. Other, more advanced skills may be used to negotiate a benefit such as a direct request for a biscuit, a drink or use of the toilet or to resolve a conflict. Conflict resolution may be a trigger for a shy child with poorly developed skills to become less reserved – often becoming noisy or even using physical means.
As with every other skill, children will learn social skills at differing rates; some easily and quickly, while other children will be more cautious. Social ability is a combination of nature and nurture: a child’s innate character will determine the ease he feels in a certain environment but upbringing can teach a child manners and skills to cope with any unease. It is important to remember that play is one of the most important ways a child learns social skills, particularly unstructured play.
Often, simply knowing the right rules and expectations can boost your child’s confidence. Better developed social skills has a flow on effect in many areas of your child’s growth:
- She may have better success at school by having the confidence to participate more in class and be unafraid of making mistakes or being mildly embarrassed;
- He will be more independent leading to increased exploration and willingness to take considered risks, without having to “prove” himself;
- She will interact with peers and adults more positively;
- He will more easily establish and maintain a wider range of quality friendships;
- She will be more willing to try something new such as sporting activities or drama;
- A confident child will demonstrate a willingness to try new things at the risk of failure leading to greater resilience.
Gifted children can often lack age appropriate social skills; sometimes their interests are different from those of their peers; they may either feel themselves to be different or be made to feel different.
To give your child a chance to develop a wider range of social skills and to increase their confidence gradually expose your child to as many different situations and activities as you can. These activities need not be costly. They also do not need to be formal activities. It’s important to consider that a good balance of personal time is necessary for those who are more introverted to allow them to refuel their emotional energy levels between social activities.
Good things to do would include:
- playdates with a range of peers;
- development of a stronger, comfortable relationship with a particular child;
- if a child has a particular friend this can often reinforce confidence in a new situation such as an unfamiliar park or playground, if they attend together;
- family outings to less familiar places such as a museum, library or kid friendly gallery are useful for modelling acceptable behaviour in different environments.
- attending a sibling’s sports fixture or school event are useful for introducing the child outside her peer group.
- doing an activity which reinforces your child’s strengths or fosters a particular interest such as trampolining or an aquarium visit can also give your child confidence in a new situation.
As with any other skill, social skills can be improved through a structured learning course. Australian Gifted Support Centre offers the Stepping Stones program, designed to develop appropriate skills in gifted children, including:
- pre-social skills;
- emotional regulation;
- anger management;
- friendship building;
- conflict resolution;
- anti-bullying strategies;
- “getting along” skills.
Courses are developed and directed by experienced, caring and fully qualified professional educators. For further information on our upcoming courses please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0417 208 562.