Child Social skills. Does your child have them? Does your child need them?
Many parents are concerned that their children missed out on opportunities to practice their social skills and foster relationships during the past few years. Guess what…they did. Do you want to know the good news? It will be ok! Your child is resilient and will integrate back into social groups as time goes on. This may take a week, a month or even a year, but as time progresses, your child will learn and implement social skills with your help. While it may come naturally to some children, others will need a bit of help. Whether you have been back at school and in social settings for the past year or you are still waiting for a safer environment, you are not alone. Children are like sponges and will soak up what is around them. The best thing you can do is model “expected behaviors”. Expected behaviors are the behaviors that are anticipated for a particular setting. Think of whispering in a library or taking turns during a board game. The more they have opportunities to see appropriate social skills being modeled, the more likely they are to apply these skills when they are in a social setting with their peers. Extracurricular activities, school and life may not look the same as they did before, but by learning new skills and practicing them at home and in the community, children will grow their resilience and confidence.
The benefits of social skills and how they grow
Social skills are beneficial for so many reasons. They will not only allow children to make friends and improve their ability to cooperate with others, but they will also increase their confidence. This is important because confidence can help to improve their mood and overall mental health. Practicing and increasing social skills is not meant to ensure that your child is the most popular or has the most friends: however, they will help them function in school and in social settings, and will help them navigate the workplace later in life. So what are social skills? At a young age, social skills can range from taking turns and sharing to reading body language and joining a group. These skills can all be taught through 1:1 interactions with a trusted adult, but one of the best ways to practice and apply these skills is in a social setting with similarly aged peers. Often, it is easier to jump in and give your child the words to use or perform a task for them. While there is a time and a place to teach, we often need to take a step back and let children practice these skills on their own. If someone is routinely telling a child when to share or how to ask for a turn, that child may struggle to build the confidence to do this on their own. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Let your child practice, problem solve and maybe even fail. Let them know it is okay to make mistakes and have uncomfortable feelings. Model coping skills when they do have those feelings and let them try again when they are ready. Coping skills are those skills that we use to calm down our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
- Take a deep breath. You can use the phrase “smell the cookies, blow out the candles”
- Take a break from the situation. Use this time to be mindful, read a book, count to ten.
- Positive self-talk. “That was really hard, I can try again.” or “I can do this!”
- Take a break to run around, blow bubbles, dance, etc. Movement can be a great way to
let out the negative energy and try again!
No two children are the same. Take a moment to find what works best to comfort and regulate your child. This process will allow them to develop a growth mindset, learn from their mistakes and find pride in future successes.
What can I do to help my child?
If your child does need a little boost due to development delays, quarantine, lack of social opportunities or just for a little practice, there are many ways to get support. Look in your community for local social skills groups. These are offered by many social workers, therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and more. These groups will teach specific skills and give your child an opportunity to practice them in a structured setting with peers their age. You can also look for local meet ups where families get together to have their children interact in a less structured environment. Many of these will take place at parks, museums, play places and zoos. Social skills are difficult to measure, but the most important thing for your child is to not compare them to others. Measure their progress by personal growth and focus on all of the skills and strengths they are gaining.
You are doing a great job!
Remember to take it day by day, hour by hour and breath by breath. While children are learning a new normal, so are the adults. It is okay not to have it all figured out. Make a small change today, but do not take on the world. Your child does not need you to fix the past two years, they need you to validate their feelings, support them in their growth, problem solve situations together and be present.
What else can you do?
At Grow Wellness Group Therapy & Counseling in Naperville, we offer workshops and groups for childre (ages 4-6 and 7-10), which specifically focus on social skills development. These sessions are lead and designed by our Child Therapist team. If you are interested, you can learn more about the workshops and groups offered children HERE.