Some parents would normally brush off having to train their young children in proper interaction with others, under the pretext that they are still young and that children should be allowed to act like children. Nonetheless, with the rising cases of childhood bullying in recent years, it is proven that it’s never too early to start inculcating basic social skills to children. Besides, children with poor social skills will grow up to become adults who will also struggle with social ineptness.
Therefore, it’s important to think of instilling good social skills as an investment that will greatly help your children navigate their lives as adults in the future.
What are social skills?
Social skills are the set of skills we use every day to interact and communicate with others. They include verbal and non-verbal communication, such as speech, gesture, facial expression and body language.
A person has strong social skills if they have knowledge of how to behave in social situations and understand both written and implied rules when communicating with others. Children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Pervasive Developmental Disorder and Asperger’s have difficulties with social skills.
Why are good social skills important?
Social skills are vital in enabling an individual to have and maintain positive interactions with others. Many of these skills are crucial in making and sustaining friendships. Social interactions do not always run smoothly and an individual needs to be able to implement appropriate strategies, such as conflict resolution when difficulties in interactions arise.
It is also important for individuals to have ‘empathy’ — being able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and recognise their feelings — as it allows them to respond in an understanding and caring way to how others are feeling.
Here are the necessary aspects in developing social skills:
- Attention and concentration: Sustained effort, doing activities without distraction and being able to hold that effort long enough to get the task done.
- Receptive (understanding) language: Comprehension of language.
- Expressive (using) language: The use of language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.
- Play skills: Voluntary engagement in self motivated activities that are normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment where the activities may be, but are not necessarily, goal oriented.
- Pre-language skills: The ways in which we communicate without using words and include things such as gestures, facial expressions, imitation, joint attention and eye-contact.
- Self regulation: The ability to obtain, maintain and change one’s emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner.
- Executive functioning: Higher order reasoning and thinking skills.
- Planning and sequencing: The sequential multi-step task or activity performance to achieve a well-defined result.
How do you know if your child has poor social skills?
As parents, it’s important to be sensitive to your children’s social development. Look out for certain tell-tale signs that may provide more insight into what they are struggling with.
If a child has difficulties with social skills they might:
- Have trouble maintaining eye contact or stares at you fixedly.
- Not be able to take turns when talking to their communication partner.
- Struggle with using appropriate body language (e.g. stands too close/far to another person).
- Fail to use polite forms of communication, like saying ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’.
- Be unable to start and end conversations appropriately.
- Interrupt others frequently.
- Be unable to maintain a topic of conversation and provide irrelevant comments during a conversation.
- Talk ‘at you’ in a conversation as opposed to engaging in a two way conversation ‘with’ you.
- Ask inappropriate questions.
- Repeat information in conversation and tend to talk about topics of their own interest, like a pet, a favourite TV show/person.
- Show little or no interest in what the other person has to say.
- Fail to understand jokes and language, such as sarcasm, idioms and non-literal information.
- Interpret what you say in a very literal way (e.g. when you say “Can you open the door?” the child ‘yes’ without moving to actually open the door).
- Talk with unusual speed, stress, rhythm, intonation, pitch and/or tone of voice.
- Be unable to understand different tones of voice or read facial cues.
- Fail to ask for clarification if they are confused or if the situation is unclear to them.
- Struggle to respond appropriately when asked to change their actions.
- Tend to disclose (excessively) personal information to unfamiliar people or strangers.
- Appear unaware of others and fail to empathise with others based on their verbal and non-verbal cues.
- Be unable to respond to teasing, anger, failure and disappointment appropriately.
- Be unable to adjust or modify their language appropriately according to the communication situation.
- Lack empathy (i.e. is not able to imagine what it is like to be somebody else or in their situation).
- Lack of imagination.
- Appear self-centred.
- Fail to understand the consequences of their actions.
How can you help improve social skills in your child?
Proper nurturing of social skills begins at home, and as parents, it’s very crucial for you to play an active role in helping your child develop healthy social skills.
Here are some of the things you can do at home:
- Play with your child to help develop joint attention, turn-taking, shared interests, cooperation and appropriate play with toys.
- Help your child to understand and display their own emotions and to recognise these emotions in other people.
- Help your child to understand and recognise how other people are feeling in particular situations.
- Share social stories: These are stories which are used to teach children specific social skills that they may find difficult to understand or are confusing. The goal of the story is to increase the child’s understanding by describing in detail a specific situation and suggesting an appropriate social response.
- Involve them in regular playdates or other social skill groups — these are groups run with the express purpose of mastering social interaction with others.
What type of therapy is recommended for social skill difficulties?
If your child has difficulties with social skills, it is also recommended that you consult a speech therapist. If there are multiple areas of concern beyond just social skills, both Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy may also be well recommended to address the functional areas of concern. If you suspect that your child may be struggling with their social skills, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us by filling in this contact form. Our representative will get in touch with you soon to make an appointment with you and your child.