As adults, it is easy to forget how we developed our social skills and how well we got along with others to influence outcomes and build healthy, positive relationships. Developing social skills is actually not very far from developing cognitive skills or physical capabilities. Improving mental and physical strength can be achieved with constant practice, familiarity, and experience. With regular rehearsal in shifting scenarios, social skills can also be improved dramatically, with lifelong benefits.
MANAGING SOCIAL INTERACTION
Many parents think that setting up as many ‘play dates’ (interaction with other kids) for their children as possible will naturally allow them to develop their social skills. However, such social gatherings have limits on the growth children can experience from them.
In order to build well-rounded social skills, parents need to strike a balance between social interaction and guidance. If a child is constantly around his or her peers, receiving little guidance regarding the things he sees, hears, does, and says, then self-image, self-respect, and strong values are difficult to achieve. Children often do not fully understand complex concepts like empathy, compassion, and even self-control. It is therefore the parents’ responsibility to educate their children on proper social etiquette, courtesy, and behavior. In order to achieve this, parents should ‘casually’ monitor their children when interacting with peers of the same age and give advice, praise, or mild correction when needed.
Guiding a child is very different from reprimanding them. While it may be necessary to reprimand a child on certain occasions, what is most important for the parent is to put themselves in the place of the child. Seeing things through the eyes of a child can be quite difficult, but treating a child with care and compassion is extremely important in relation to social skill building. Moreover, as a child grows, his or her thoughts become increasingly complex. Unless they are encouraged to verbalize them, they will never truly be able to articulate them properly. Parents should practice putting thoughts and feelings into words with their children from time to time.
RISKS OF LOW SOCIAL INTERACTION
At the other extreme, there is always the risk of too little exposure to peers. If a child or adolescent does not get enough chances to meet and play with kids his or her own age, he or she can easily lose or even fail to develop social perspective. He or she will not recognize cues on how to behave in social settings and relationships, sometimes leading to outbursts, missteps, and
misbehavior. Fortunately this is a handicap that can often be avoided by involvement in partner or group activities, clubs or groups, sports, free play, and so on. Failing to develop satisfactory social skills can lead to poor habits and reclusive tendencies, ultimately preventing success by various measures among other ill effects such as susceptibility to peer abuse (bullying).
In addition to regular academics, many parents rely on pre-school karate classes to help their children develop strong social skills at an early age.