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When a child is growing up, they start interacting with you and with a number of people around them. Over time, it becomes evident that they need to communicate in the right manner for others to understand them. This communication, combined with being able to interact with people confidently, is one of the stepping stones in a child’s progress.
What are Social Skills?
On a general overview level, social skills are all tools, methods, and techniques one requires to be able to interact and engage with people in an appropriate manner. These could range from being able to say “Hello” and “Goodbye” in the right context for small kids, to being cooperative while playing with other kids, to understanding when to be grateful and when to apologize, to gradually complex communications of being able to tell a joke and empathizing with someone when they are sad.
Why are Social Skills Important for Kids?
- Social skills help your kid to talk appropriately and understand how to interact with a stranger.
- They help them to understand when they should listen and when is the right time to speak up.
- Kids with good social skills can make friends easily and maintain friendships for a longer period, too.
- They understand how to handle awkward and uncomfortable situations as well as how to stand up for themselves if they are bullied or made fun of.
- Social skills empower kids to accept compliments gracefully and encourage and motivate others when they come to them with problems.
Signs That Indicate Your Child Has Difficulty with Social Skills
Certain children may not be outspoken or generally be shy in nature. But there are others who have trouble getting along with people or have extreme difficulty in interactions. There are signs that one should look out for.
- Hesitates to make eye contact, or barely maintains it for a fleeting moment
- Constantly interrupts while talking or fails to complete a conversation
- Cannot use the right body gestures or maintain a good distance while talking to someone
- Jump to an irrelevant topic in the middle of a themed conversation
- Constantly repeat what you’ve just said and then try to change the topic
- Have absolutely no interest in what is being said and not begin or end a conversation politely
- Have trouble understanding jokes or sarcastic comments or idioms
- Take things literally without understanding the underlying intention of it. For example, if you ask “Can you get me a glass of water?” and they reply “Yes” without actually getting up to get you a glass of water
- Talk in an arrhythmic fashion without the right voice modulation or intonations for statements and questions
- Fail to understand what a person is feeling by looking at their facial expressions
- Rarely ask for clarification even when confused and proceed ahead nonetheless
- Be excessively open and communicative at times with totally random strangers
- Saying the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time
- Barely use any imagination while talking and talk as if reporting an incident
- Struggle with understanding what a person would feel if they were to say something or act in a certain manner
What Can You Do to Improve Social Skills in Your Kids?
There are no specific social skills lessons for kids. However, there are certain activities and tips that can help your kid understand better and be aware of their own behavioural tendencies.
- Engage in play
Lack of understanding interpersonal communication usually stems from a lack of time spent interacting with people. Give your child a safe space by playing with them so that they understand the basics of communication such as waiting for your turn to speak or to do an action. Concepts of sharing and cooperation are learnt through this as well.
- Understanding emotions
Children who fail to understand the emotions in people usually have trouble expressing their own emotions, too. Help your child express what they are feeling in a more verbose or direct fashion. Interact with them by playing your emotional cues to a high as well, so that they notice them easily. See if their behaviour undergoes a change when your behaviour changes based on your emotions.
- Concept of empathy
Kids struggling with social skills fail to see the need to understand what the other person is going through. They need to see that emotions are not an individual concept but a social construct that allows people to come together, help each other, or give each other space and privacy they need. Allow your kids to understand the reason for someone feeling a certain emotion and what makes them feel about it.
Stories that are heavily governed by emotions and their actions may get confusing and weird for a kid with weak social skills. Walk them through the story and ask them what their response would be to a particular situation. Help them understand the needs and responses of other people in the story and advise them on what an appropriate response in such a situation could be.
- Speaking groups
Enlist your kid in a speaking club or a group that help improve and master the skillset required for social interactions. Such groups are expert in breaking down the motivations and reasons behind each emotion. This can help your kid understand the cause and response to actions and emotions and, consequently, learn to express and interact better.
Activities to Develop Your Child’s Social Skills
There are a bunch of social skills activities for kids that can help your kid understand social interactions in an interesting way.
- Staring contest – By continuously staring at each other, your kid will begin to observe facial cues in a focused manner. This is precisely what makes people laugh out uncontrollably or struggle to keep their face straight in a staring match.
- Using idioms – Make a list of the most popular idioms and use them yourself in the right situation. Ask your kid whether they understand the reason behind using it and then break it down for them.
- Dumb charades – Playing a game that makes extensive use of body language and facial expressions are the best tool to learn. Allow your kid to make their guesses as well as express them in the right way so as to learn better what people understand and how best to convey it to them.
- Topic tag – Pick a theme for a conversation and ask your child to talk about it. Have a discussion where you make one sentence and your child has to finish that sentence around the same theme. This will help them keep a conversation going.
- Fictional conversations – Have your kid talk to your pet or a toy of their liking or even a tree in the garden. Ask them to check with the object if they’re feeling good or not. Observe how they communicate with them or what they talk about when they are seemingly in private.
- Team games – Engage in sports where a team needs to work together and see how your kid interacts with them. Try doing it with your family to give your kid a safe space to be themselves.
- Stage plays – Take your kid to a theatrical play and let them see how people express emotions on stage. Enrol them in a primary workshop so they have a chance to learn the basics of expression. Acting exercises are helpful in breaking the mould and being comfortable with reading emotions and expressing them.
- Volunteering – Allow your kid to work with organizations that serve and help other people. By seeing how their work directly impacts the well-being of other people, your kid will feel more connected to them and learn to empathize with them.
- Exhibitions – Take your kid to science expos or other exhibitions. These are spaces for discussions where multiple questions are asked and answered. Encourage your child to ask questions and ask them to explain the answer to you in their own words.
- Mimicry – Cartoons and funny characters are the best deal for this. Ask your child to mimic a particular character exactly the way they do. You can even tell them to mimic your own self of how you get ready for the day or how you behave.
There are tons of social skills games for kids that can be interesting as well as a learning experience for them. Most of all, they need a lot of motivation and encouragement from you to keep moving ahead in it. With enough practice and interactions, your kid will start being able to hold conversations all by themselves in no time.