We are living in an increasingly digital world. As a result, social skills that were so easily developed 20 years ago are becoming less and less natural to our children. Rather than going around the neighborhood to see who wants to play, kids are meeting up online to play Fortnite or some other videogame. Rather than talking on the phone, kids are sending out group texts or snap chats. Rather than making friends at the park on a Saturday afternoon, kids are staring at their devices. As a result, more and more kids are struggling to master basic social skills needed for success.
Social skills begin to develop as early as infancy. Most parents spend countless hours engaging with their babies by talking to them, trying to understand their needs, or simply trying to hear that perfect little laugh. Skills like eye contact, back and forth communication, and simple engagement begin to develop. As children get older, they start attending a Mom’s Morning Out program or daycare where they begin to engage with other adults and peers. They begin learning how to follow the rules, share with others, and even show empathy when another kid gets hurt. At each stage of life, different social skills are being mastered. However, not everyone develops these skills easily and many need more assistance.
While there are many different social skills for one to master, here are my top 5:
These skills are just the tip of the iceberg but if they can be taught and mastered, you will see your child begin to thrive socially. But, what exactly are these skills and how do we teach them? How do we help our kids develop something that doesn’t always come naturally? I’ll start with #1 today and in future blogs, I’ll tackle the rest…
#1: Initiating Conversation and Listening Attentively
Initiating conversation can be tricky. Many kids struggle with when to initiate and how to keep the conversation going. The first step is teaching kids about eye contact. When we want to engage in conversation, we need to look the person we’re speaking to in the eyes. This can be uncomfortable for kids but it’s important to remind them that eye contact is not the same as staring. Their eyes can wander a littler but if they want to keep someone talking to them, they need to look them in the eyes often. The next step is timing. Kids are often so focused on what they want that they neglect to notice others and end up acting impulsively. Therefore, it’s important to teach our kids to take a pause and notice what is going on with the person they are seeking out before going in full steam ahead. If the person or group of interest is in the middle of something, a kid needs to wait their turn before engaging in conversation.
The final step in initiating conversation is showing interest. No one wants to stay in a one-sided conversation. Therefore, we need to teach our kids how to ask the right, open-ended questions in order to get to know someone. “What did you do over the summer?” “What did you think about that social studies test yesterday?” And most importantly, we need to listen to their answers. Listening attentively does not mean listening just to make a response. Listening attentively means listening in order to understand what is being said. So how do you help your child with this? Role play. The best way to become a better conversationalist is to practice. Make up characters and go back and forth getting to know each other. It might seem silly at first but, anytime you can make something more playful it will also be more memorable. By engaging your child in conversation and role playing different scenarios, you are helping them to establish a solid foundation in initiating conversation and how to listen attentively.