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Johnny doesn’t want to share, Jessica doesn’t cope with losing, Jack won’t say hello to people, Sarah likes to boss other kids around, Hunter has started being cheeky and saying no…. The list can go on and on. Every parent can relate to these issues, and what do these all have in common? They are Social Skills. Social skills are skills we require to interact with those around us. They are like the unspoken rules that dictate how we relate in everyday situations (e.g. if you bump into someone you say sorry; if someone picks up your shopping bag, you say thank-you). Children may learn social skills by watching how others around them behave. They watch their parents and copy what they do, and likewise they watch other children and copy what they do. Parents often remark, after they send their child to preschool, they start to notice changes in their behaviour- good and bad. Just as language and physical development are important, so is emotional and social development. General social skills that children learn as they grow and develop include;
  • Attention: seeking attention appropriately and using eye contact
  • Taking turns: we share a turn and don’t keep a game to ourselves
  • Participation: joining in and having a go, even when we are scared sometimes
  • Greetings: saying hello to people using eye contact
  • Farewells: saying goodbye to people using eye contact
  • Being a Friend: developing close relationships (this is very important at a young age- developing relationships with the same gender)
  • Listening: being an active listener
  • Manners: saying thank-you/ sorry
  • Appropriate behaviour in different environments: classroom, home, speech therapy, shopping, church etc
  • Conflict Resolution: learning how to resolve problems appropriately
  • Recognising and Handling Emotions: what do we do when we are angry, upset or excited etc
  • Thinking of others: how would this person feel if I hit them? Etc
There are different social skills learnt at each age (even long into adulthood), the above listed are basic skills for young children. To learn most of these skills, children observe others, but also benefit from being taught and encouraged (e.g. every time we see someone we say hello). Children may also learn through correction (e.g. don’t hit or punch). After teaching and modelling, most children eventually develop appropriate social skills. However, some children can have social skills difficulties. This may be due to additional factors such as Autism, ADHD or language/ learning delays. If this is the case, speech therapy can be very beneficial. If your child is struggling with social skills, some strategies that you may use at home:
  • Social Stories: make a book about your child and the situation. Use simple sentences and let them help create it. In the story talk about; your child, what they like, how they feel most of the time and then the behaviour that you would like to change. For more info on social stories, see this excellent website: http://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/social-story-sampler/
  • Prepare and Discuss Situations with your child: in a calm and settled environment, talk to your child about a certain situation and how you would like them to behave. Talk about what they need to do and feelings. E.g. How do you feel when you see Nan? When we see Nan, we look at her and say hello.
  • Role Play: physically practise the behaviour (if possible). You can also use toys such as dolls or potato heads to role play.
  • Talk about using words, rather than actions: talk about this when your child is calm and settled. Give them permission to express themselves and let them know that you are listening.
If you are worried about your child’s social skills talk to your/a speech therapist. As children develop and grow, it is very rewarding to see them mature, make friends and have close friendships. These relationships start at a young age and play a big part in them enjoying school, in the later years.