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How to Encourage Social Skills with your Children

Janie Hortman

The phrase “social skills” describes interactions a person has in relationships that are used to communicate our thoughts and feelings through both verbal or nonverbal. A child’s verbal expression could be a statement of “I don’t care” or constant talking about a subject without asking the listener their opinion. A nonverbal expression could be a child having little eye contact or turning his or her back on the listener. It is important to develop healthy social skills during childhood as it is a sensitive time to build communication between caregivers and friends.

What are signs that social skills may need to be encouraged with a child?

These are a few signs that social skills may be more of a challenge to your child. If these signs sound like familiar behaviors, it does not mean your child has a definite problem. These are just guidelines to seek additional help. Signs to look for are if a child:

  • Avoids eye contact (except when culturally appropriate)
  • Isolation from others
  • Does not attach emotion to relationships
    • For example: A child uses an adult for a functional purpose instead of a comforting purpose.
  • Often appears to be withdrawn or in his or her “own world”
  • In general, seems emotionally detached
  • Has little empathy towards others
  • Displays signs of extreme anxiety or sadness in difficult social situations
  • Has difficulty with transitions or changing topics
  • Thinks in “black or white” and appears rigid
  • Appears to have little friends, even if attempts are made to be social
  • Has difficulty interacting with peers of the same age
  • Tries to gain friends through fundamental ways that could be below developmental levels, such as asking a friend “Do you want to be friends?”
  • Has experienced bullying

What can caregivers do to help?

As a caregiver, you are a secure base for your child to connect to and at the same time feel comfortable to explore the world around them. Therefore, modeling healthy social skills to children is one of the best ways for them to learn these skills. Here are a few skills to encourage at home:

  • Encourage eye contact and open body language during conversations
  • Encourage the child to ask his or her peers questions during conversations and be flexible in subjects they talk about
  • Promote empathy and respect while talking together
  • Seek extra help or support as needed

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