Although you might wish your child could be a natural-born social butterfly, being sociable isn’t always as easy for a child as you might think.
Many of today’s children have strictly managed schedules that constrict the amount of free time they have to manage on their own. More often than not, children are micro-managed throughout the day from an early age, with prearranged play times, daily commitments and extracurricular activities.
According to statistics from Europe and the United States, families are shrinking in size, with one- or two-children families now surpassing families with three children. Children nowadays have way less interaction with siblings and extended family due to globalization, hectic lifestyles, and career-driven goals. This lack of social relations and micro-family settings can restrict your child’s development of social skills.
Although children currently face greater challenges than ever on their journey toward social development, here are 13 strategies and examples for you to help your child build stronger social skills at home.
13 ways to boost your child’s social skills
1. Teach how to enter and exit an ongoing conversation
Eye contact and waiting one’s turn to speak are basic etiquette during any conversation, but these are skills that many young children lack or struggle to put into practice.
2. Teach them that sarcasm is not for everyone
Some children like to be playful and make jokes during social interaction. But sarcasm is not a comfortable form of humor for everyone, especially for the person it’s aimed at.
Help your child to understand that being on the receiving end of sarcasm is no fun, and why it’s better to leave out sarcasm when it might hurt others’ feelings.
3. Conversation starter tools
More often than not, many children struggle to have a conversation in a social setting because they don’t know how to initiate or sustain it. They have limited experience coming up with proper questions and statements to stroke communication.
Create lists of “evergreen” (i.e. universally and continually relevant) questions that your child can customize to their specific context, to help them initiate a conversation. Creating a questionnaire that your child can practice and use when needed will help them understand the fundamental types of questions appropriate to different situations, and enables them to come up with their own variations.
4. No one can be everyone’s cup of tea
Helping your child to understand and accept from an early age that they can’t please everyone will save them from a lot of the anxiety and stress around the social relationships in their lives.
Help your child learn how to handle negative feedback from others.
Teach them how to find positive ways to look at negative or hurtful comments.
For example, if they receive the criticism, “You don’t have any friends”, they can choose to reinterpret that as, “I like to have a few close friends.” The criticism, “You’re not pretty” can be looked at as “That’s her opinion—I have a lot of good features and I’m pretty enough”.
Negative feedback can contain constructive criticism. Your child should be able to accept their limitations and be open to work on them. If someone is pointing out something they could improve, then not seeing it as a personal attack is important. Help your child to focus on the facts and think of ways to turn criticism into chances for improvement.
Help your child to see his or her merits and likable traits.
Explore their merits with them and discuss the things others can appreciate about them.
5. Teach them how to have empathy, show kindness, and help others
Caring for others not only attracts kindness in return, but also boosts one’s self-esteem.
Doing something good for others makes your child feel happy and good about themselves. Experts say helping others is the easiest way to bring joy to yourself.
6. Teach your child awareness of rumors, gossip, teasing, lies, and bullying
Juggling social relationships is hard work, even for adults, but especially for young children. One of the reasons attaining social skills is difficult is because there are so many negative social behaviors that children can experience without having developed the self-control or knowledge to recognize the harm in them and avoid engaging in those behaviors themselves.
Help your child to understand negative social behaviors like creating rumors, spreading gossip, teasing, lying and bullying. Teach them that there can be devastating effects on the receiving end, and ask them to consider how they might feel if it happened to them.
7. Stabilize your child’s self-esteem
Unfortunately, your child is highly likely to be attacked for who they are at some point. Regardless of whether unkind statements contain any truth or not, they can be even more hurtful to an unprepared child. Find coping tools that can prepare your child to withstand negative verbal attacks and not stay stressed long term. One of the benefits of a healthy self-esteem is being more resisitant to personal attacks.
- Try to redirect negative comments your child might make about themselves such as, “I’m not good at anything”, “I’m not a popular girl”, “I’m not good enough to do that”, or “I’m not good-looking”.
Redirect doesn’t mean just correcting negative statements to positive ones. To redirect, you have to help them rethink how they think about themselves. The only way they can change their own mind about themselves is by engaging in experiences that prove that they are not that negative version of themselves.
For example, if your child thinks he or she is not good at anything, find your child’s strongest asset and develop it to another level. If your child is pretty good at cooking, find a challenging but doable recipe or take a class. Let them prepare some food and invite people to enjoy and show their appreciation for your child’s great work.
- Help your child to see beauty outside of conventional standards
There are many women who are not standard beauties, but their fashion sense and confidence radiate beauty and charms. Beauty can be achieved by accentuating one’s strengths and confidence.
- Focus on praising your child’s good behavior and resist pointing out every single flaw to teach them a lesson. Focusing on their strengths can help your child boost their self-esteem and build inner strength.
- Calm your child’s self-blame and self-doubt
Self-blame is different from accepting fault. When something goes wrong, blaming problems on themselves instead of looking for solutions is not a healthy way to deal with the situation.
8. Prepare your child by practicing responses to bullying
Do not expect your child to know how to react properly to sudden verbal or physical attacks.
When your child is on the receiving end of verbal and physical attacks, they are highly likely to freeze and be unable to react appropriately. Go through possible scenarios of bullying and help your child to practice appropriate reactions.
According to bullying awareness experts, the best way to react to verbal bullying is by letting the bully know they are free to think whatever they want, and your child isn’t upset by it.
For example, if a bully says, “You’re stupid”, instead responding “I’m not”, say “Do you think so? Okay.” This way the bully loses the motivation to keep going, but if your child argues against their idea, it gives the bully more reason to continue or repeat the verbal attack.
But when a bully attacks your child physically, it is usually best to fight back with all their might from the get go, to let the bully know he or she will not be an easy victim.
9. Role model daily
When your own social relationships are a wreck, including the way you communicate with your child, it doesn’t set a good example. It is especially important to comfort your child when he or she is down and listen when they need someone to talk to.
How you deal with your friends, family, and neighbors can be a good opportunity to show your child how you handle social relationships. The sun can’t shine every day, and there will be some inevitable conflict to face. Show how you manage the ups and downs in your own social relationships.
Share your failures, friendships, and current struggles while accepting your child for who they are without judgement or criticism.
10. Be a listener rather than a talker
Being a good listener is one quick way to build a relationship, especially when your child is not socially active. Help your child develop the patience to listen to others’ stories while coming up with appropriate questions to ask.
11. Problem-solving skills
Problem-solving skills can only be built through trial and error. Without experiencing many failures, problem-solving skills will never grow. Your child has to be comfortable with failure and not allow it to damage their self-esteem or stress them out too much.
Teach them that perfection is more of an obstacle than an ideal. Focusing too narrowly on perfection can lead to sacrificing creativity and experimentality in order to avoid the risk of imperfect results.
Being a team player is harder for socially struggling children. To be sportsmanlike, your child has to learn how to cooperate, find a middle ground when there are different opinions, support others’ weaknesses and boosting their strengths. Sportsmanlike behavior requires self-discipline and following the rules—even when they don’t play in your favor.
13. Comparison and jealousy are shortcuts to negative outcomes
Everyone is unique, and that is why experts exist—because no one can be good at everything. Being unique and having a specialty will help your child do something they enjoy and are good at—while making them better at it in the process. Comparison and jealousy, on the other hand, will only make them chase after things they aren’t as good at, and make them mediocre at everything. Teach your child how to congratulate others who are good at things they aren’t, and be proud of their own unique strengths.
Never assume your child will manage on their own to figure out social skills at some point. Your child needs awareness about social expectations and potential conflicts they might face. Prepare your child by giving them some tools to practice, while educating them about social norms and challenges. Finally, be a good role model to your child and build a strong bond that your child can fall back to and seek help as they ride out the highs and lows of social relationships.
You might also like to read the posts below:
- Why some kids lack social skills and miss cues
- Why your shy kid can’t interact with others
- 5 reasons why your child can’t engage with others