Social Skills are crucial to success. Without social skills, none of us would make it very far in life. In my last blog, I touched on the first skill: Initiating Conversation and Listening Attentively. In this blog, I will tackle the next two skills from my list: Managing One’s Emotions and Sharing/Compromising.
#2: Managing One’s Emotions
This topic alone could easily take up multiple blogs but the bottom line is this: All emotions are okay but how we express them can be socially appropriate or inappropriate. When it comes to teaching our kids how to express emotions appropriately, the first thing you need to do as a parent is validate the emotions you are seeing. When a parent makes the statement “you’re feeling sad because Tommy didn’t want to play with you,” you are helping your child make the connection between the feeling word and their experience. This simple act of validation goes a long way in enhancing a child’s emotional vocabulary and emotional expression.
Another helpful tool in teaching our children to manage their emotions is to teach them how to take a break. When we think about managing emotions, most of us automatically think of managing anger and when it comes to managing anger, taking a break to cool down is often very necessary. I often compare anger to a vacuum cleaner. The closer we get to what is making us angry, the more anger sucks us in, and we explode. However, when we pull ourselves away from the anger suction, we can usually calm down more easily. As parents, we need to model this for our kids. If they see us taking a break, cooling off and subsequently coming back and resolving the conflict in a calmer manner, they are much more likely to do the same. Remember, you are still your child’s number one role model. This same idea can work for other emotions as well.
A third useful tool in teaching your children to manage their emotions is to model and teach them I/Me Statements. “Homework makes me feel frustrated when it takes so long to get it done” or “It hurts my feelings when I get called a name.” “I feel disappointed that I can’t have that toy today” instead of “You’re so mean!” “I feel like my anger is getting bigger and I need a break” instead of “You leave me alone!” I/Me statements put the focus on the feeling and is usually received better by the listener rather having statements that start with “You” and point the finger at someone or something else. Anytime we can put words to our feelings rather than explosive actions, we are much more likely to get a response that is helpful rather than a response that perpetuates the emotion.
#3: Sharing and Compromising
Another challenging skill for kids to developing is the idea of sharing. This is a skill that all toddlers struggle with initially and it’s developmentally appropriate for them to do so. This skill begins to develop more naturally once they start socializing more. When a child is in early preschool or daycare and there are 10 kids in a classroom, inevitably, someone will have the toy they want, not share, and a meltdown will occur. Teachers then step in and begin teaching the concept of sharing. The same thing happens on the playground or during a play date. Natural experiences guide children to understand the concept of sharing and the more experiences they have, the better they learn.
As kids get older, the skill of compromise becomes the more difficult skill to learn. As adults, we know that we will not get what we want all the time and ideally, we’ve learned how to cope with that. Kids, however, have a harder time grasping this concept. The idea behind compromise is that everyone gets a little of what they want but no one gets everything. Like sharing, the best way to learn this skill is through natural experiences. As a parent, you can help your kid learn to compromise by helping them compromise with you. If you want them to clean their room but they want to keep playing videogames, compromise with them by letting them play 10 more minutes before cleaning and 10 minutes after cleaning. If two siblings are fighting because they want to play two different things, guide them into a compromise of either taking turns by using timers for when it’s time to switch activities or see if they can compromise by combining the two activities. When you’re offering this guidance, it’s important to use the work “compromise” or “let’s make a deal” and talk to them about what those words mean. Real life experiences and coaching go a long way in teaching social skills.