Developing social skills is such a vast topic. There are so many components to social skills. We need to know physically what we do in terms of eye contact, tone and volume of voice, body language and how close we stand to people. There are the language components such as how to have a reciprocal conversation, how to have small talk and how to ask to play. Knowing the social rules like, what to do when you lose, taking turns, sharing, what to do when someone smiles at you, things you can do in public and private, how to manage conflict and what do you do if someone gives you a present you don’t like. Then there is what most people think of which is using manners. Knowing when to say thank you, how to greet people, how to say good bye and saying please. There is too much in this topic to tackle in one blog so I will continue this over the next few blog posts. For today I will focus on how social skills relate to Emotional Intelligence.
When we look at socials skills in terms of Emotional Intelligence we are focusing on how we are able to make and maintain friendships. With children this is incredibly important. Every day they are in a highly social environment at school and there is no way to avoid people and play. The impact of not being able to negotiate this world successfully impacts the child’s self-esteem which will impact their ability to learn. While some kids will naturally be better at this, but it is not something that just happens. Social Skills are learnt and we need to be giving our kids opportunities to develop these.
1. Start with the basics When we meet people we look at them, we smile and we usually say hello. It is not enough to tell children that they need to do this, we need to explain why. If these skills make sense to your child then they are more likely to do them. When we look at people, we are giving them our attention, we are letting them know that we are listening to them. Using role-play or puppets can be really helpful with this. Practice what does it feel like if you are trying to talk and the person (or puppet) isn’t looking at you?
Children who are on the Autistic Spectrum or have a language disorder can find eye contact difficult. Basically looking at someone’s face and processing the information that they are saying at the same time is too demanding. In these cases try to tell your child to look at a person but take breaks by looking away for short periods. Or looking at the person’s forehead can be easier than looking in their eyes.
We smile at people so that they feel comfortable. It is a way of letting people know that it is okay to talk to them. Again role-play this, what does it feel like if you walk up to someone and they frown at you? Would you want to play with them?
Most kids when they are young don’t realise that they need to greet people as a way to start an interaction. Often they will try to join in a game without saying anything, or hide over at the side not saying anything at all. We need to explain that when you meet someone or see someone for the first time that day, we will usually start with a hello or other greeting. It is the start of everything, just like you start a sentence with a capital or you start the alphabet with an A, you start and interaction with a “hello”.
2. Playing games Playing games sounds simple but there is more to it than we think. How many times as parents have we had to step in when a game turned into a yelling match? Playing a game can be difficult. It involves turn taking, understanding how the other is feeling and the ability to not have everything your own way.
While playing it is important to teach children to not just be focused on the end goal of winning but to take an interest in the other child. Offering encouragement or to help their friend will build the friendship. Be sure to talk about what we do when we lose. It can help to remind our child before a games starts “it’s okay to lose”, “it is more fun to play and lose than to not play at all” or “I can’t win every time. I might win the next one”.
The only way to build these skills is to practice and then coach them through when issues arise. If there are siblings, then great. That is the perfect place to start. However if your child is an only child then you will have to be their play mate. Make sure you talk them through these skills, and don’t let them win every time.
3. Managing Conflict Conflict is bound to happen. It is part of all relationships but managing it well is a real skill. Of course how your child will manage conflict will depend on their age but it is never too early to start teaching them the best ways. We really have to start with what we don’t do. We don’t hit, punch, kick or hurt. We don’t yell or call each other names. We also don’t throw things or wreak the game for everyone else. We don’t do these things because it will hurt the friendship. We want to get away from the “you’re not my friend any more” way of thinking and teach them that they can still be friends and disagree. It is not enough to just tell your child what not to do, you have to give them a plan of what to do when conflict happens.
As I have said in previous posts, the first thing is to recognise when you are starting to feel angry or upset. If you need more information on how to help your child recognise this, there ideas in “Emotional Intelligence – Self-awareness”. When they are able to recognise when they are angry or upset then that is their cue to do something.
Young children (preschool aged) will need help. We need to teach them that when they are getting angry or upset in a game, or the other child is, then they need to get help from an adult. It is then your job to coach them through what to do. Remember to listen to their feelings empathetically and label the emotion, e.g. “you didn’t win the game and that made you feel angry”. Offer comfort to help calm and then problem-solve together of that they could do next. They might need to do something alone to calm or they might like to try again. Be sure to talk to them about how the other person may be feeling too. It is important that they learn to see situations from other people’s perspective.
In older children (school aged), the process is similar. The only difference is that we want them to try and do the process a little more independently. However it is important that they know that they can still ask for help if they need to. Again role-play and practice is a great way to build these skills. It can be tempting as a parent to ban a game if there is conflict happening as a result. However if they are able to negotiate this they are developing a really important skill. If a board game or other game is causing conflict, then it is okay to have a break but try and have your kids return back to it after they have resolved the problem.