What Exactly Are Social Skills?
These are the skills that are necessary in order to develop positive relationships with others, learn to work well with others, and to build self confidence. Everyone needs to feel, at some level, the acceptance of their peers – that is, a sense of belonging. This is achieved during the exchanges that happen within groups. Some children develop these more naturally on their own, while others, especially those with certain disabilities (ADHD, ODD or learning delays) may not develop these skills fully even with intervention and guidance. But, all children need a certain level of guidance as they learn what is appropriate (specifically to their culture, classroom, or even family), and what is not.
To put it another way, a child with good social skills will demonstrate effective communication, will be able to work well with others as a team, and will be able to deal with his or her emotions appropriately. Also, such a child will not be easily discouraged by setbacks and challenges, will accept responsibility without being overwhelmed, and will be able to follow the instructions and rules that are necessary to maintain group order. He or she will be able to do things such as “sharing, taking turns, and allowing others to talk without interrupting”, as well as to “plan, create, and work toward a goal”. These are all skills that should be acquired at a young age and be built upon in more complex ways later. Some children do not naturally pick up on “how to initiate, maintain, and end a conversation” – but this is another social skill that can and should be developed. Another lifelong skill that needs to start at an early age is being able to negotiate, which can take the place of tendencies to manipulate others.
Social Skills Are More Than Verbal Communication
While social skill development is closely tied to language development, it is not the same thing. As you can see from above, social skills include many different aspects of ourselves, such as our emotions, thoughts, morals, and behavior. To further explore this thought, we could break these down as follows:
Emotions: Covers dealing with and expressing feelings.
Intellect: Involve decision making that includes others’ expressed or potential thoughts and decisions, and solve interpersonal issues with others.
Ethics: Include things such as group or community-minded actions.
Behavior: Encompass things like manners, being able to function as a part of a group, and using situation appropriate communication.
If a child has in particular difficulty in controlling his or her emotions, specific activities and conversations can be integrated at school and at home to help him or her learn how to deal with feelings in a better way. Often, this improves simultaneously with communication skills development.
As a preschool teacher’s assistant, I noticed that a particular young boy had an aptitude for solving puzzles and even organized and helped in special ways around the classroom – ways that seemed advanced for his age. Even so, many teachers who had known him the year before only gossiped about the “biter boy.” I did observe the little boy bite a couple of children in my time there, but I decided to try to give him words to use instead. I saw that a child kicked him when they were playing in a tunnel, and in frustration, the little boy bit. I told him, “Hey, say, ‘I don’t like it when you kick me,’ when you are in the tunnel; say, ‘Stop doing that.’” I heard him start to use, “I not like that,” and “Stop doing that,” more in situations where he became frustrated, instead of biting. He was able to express himself better, and eventually the label the other teachers had given him as a trouble child faded away as his other skills shone.
As adults, we have a responsibility to help children learn how to process what he or she is feeling, how to express himself or herself appropriately, and how and when to exercise different forms of self-control.
Social skills, like communication, occur not only through verbal exchanges, but also through the use of “body language and facial expressions.” At certain ages or for certain children, such as those who are autistic, this may be harder, and you may need to verbalize that someone is feeling sad when they look sad for the child to make the connection. This may need to be repeated several times, and an appropriate action may be suggested: “Ask Emily why she looks sad,” or “Ask Emily if she needs a hug – she looks sad.”
Children do not necessarily stop to think about how their actions and words affect others on their own. Having a conversation about who might be invited to a party with; a 5 year old may for the first time realize that, if he/she invited all but one friend from class, how that friend would feel. Taking this to an even bigger picture, young children do not have a concept of the big picture of their community or society naturally – but can become very interested and passionate about wanting to help with litter, raising money or gathering supplies for a cause, and volunteering in other ways, even at an early age.
Some Potential Ramifications Of Poor Social Skills
Not being able to function in a group disrupts classrooms – as well as potentially the workplace later in life. This could put the child at a serious disadvantage when it comes to learning, as well as his or her career.
Children may not form healthy friendships, and can be the victims of or the antagonists (or both) of bullying, as a result. Being able to respond to others’ comments and deal with them internally, as well, is important. Conversely, being able to give positive affirmation to others is not only healthy but often contagious – people compliment a kind person.
Romantic relationships may struggle; lack of appropriate communication is a large factor in domestic violence situations. Some people live their whole lives feeling unable to voice their opinions, make decisions, or change because of difficulties in communication; they become a victim of circumstances. Some people thwart their own growth or change because they take all comments and questions as attacks, instead of evaluating statements and accepting input from trusted friends and family.
Addressing issues in young children and teaching important social skills can prevent many issues down the road, both large and small, and set a child up for success.