Why social skills important for children?

Children can commonly have difficulties with interacting with their peers and forming relationships. Social skills are integral to a child’s development as making and keeping friends often advances a child’s confidence, self-esteem, and promotes integration into their community, particularly as they grow into adolescence and enter the workforce. Social skills involve how individuals interact and cooperate with others, and encompasses concepts such as sharing, participation, listening to others, being able to follow instruction/direction, having adequate manners, being respectful and considerate, being able to resolve conflicts, and positive interactions (e.g. praising others, not bullying).
Social skills deficits may be caused by an underlying medical condition (e.g. attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorders or mental illness), however many children outgrow difficulties and improve their engagement as they mature.

Signs of children having social skills difficulties

Parents and family members may be concerned about their child’s social skills if they notice the following signs or behaviours:
– Showing little/no interest in engaging or socialising with others
– Talking too much or oversharing inappropriate information
– Not maintaining or little use of eye contact during conversation
– Poor ability to maintain appropriate and relevant topics of conversation (e.g. making inappropriate comments)
– Difficulties in launching social interactions
– Poor ability to comprehend verbal and non-verbal social cues, such as facial expressions
– Improper or inappropriate responses to social settings
– Difficulties in showing empathy or care/consideration towards others
– Poor ability to take turns or share with others
– Inappropriate body language (e.g. poor comprehension of personal space)
– Frequently interrupting others
– Difficulties in understanding when others joke or are being sarcastic; being too literal
– Being involved in bullying incidents
– Being unable to form friendships with peers (e.g. not being invited to social gatherings)

What parents/caregivers can do to promote development of social skills

While some children may benefit from therapy from a professional, parents play a vital role in enhancing a child’s social skills development. Parents can help by:
– Encouraging and organising your child to attend social outings e.g. play dates or joining social clubs
– Assist your child to heighten empathy by identifying and describing different feelings and behaviours and explaining to them how others might feel in certain situations.
– Propose ways to your child how they might manage or deal with issues or concerns with their peers
– Model appropriate social behaviours when in front of your child in all social settings; from interacting with family members and friends, to engaging with strangers (e.g. shop assistants).
– Explain to your child about how bullying or teasing behaviours may negatively affect others
– Develop conversational skills by frequently asking questions, and encourage them to listen during conversations

How Psychology can help

Psychologists commonly work with children who have problems with social skills and social interactions. Social skills training generally involves cognitive behavioural therapies that are aimed to alter how a child perceives and comprehends their environment and help them better understand appropriate social behaviours. As the child’s parents or primary caregivers are elemental to their development, therapy also usually heavily involves parents, so the child can practice skills learnt in therapy on a daily basis in their everyday environment. Psychologists can teach children to:
– Advancing the child’s perception of themselves and their emotions, needs and wants
– Initiate conversation and interactions with others
– Building self-esteem
– Help the child handle issues such as conflict, teasing or bullying
– Make eye contact with others during conversation
– Listen to others
– Improve sharing and turn-taking abilities
– Comprehend the behaviours of others such as body language, facial expressions and tones of voice
– Improve emotional regulation and anger management
– Developing empathy and consideration for other people’s viewpoints