There are many possibilities but some of the causes are:
- Introverted, shy or timid personality
If our children have timid personalities, they might not be able to overcome their shyness to take part in all of the activities that extroverted, sociable children do.
Our children might hide behind us when friends visit, or bury their faces at the doctor’s office, unable to answer questions.
- Difficulty with communication
If our children have a language barrier or certain conditions such as selective mutism, it could pose extra challenges for them to blend in with society, let alone follow social cues.
Language is a basic function that enables us to communicate with other human beings. If we are unable to deliver our thoughts in the same language and fluency, it creates a huge barrier to perceiving social cues, let alone following them.
Following social cues requires many difficult areas of skills.
Think about the recent news story about a customer throwing hot soup in a restaurant manager’s face. We’re talking about a grown-up’s reaction, but it is a clear example of lacking social skills.
The woman claimed that the soup she purchased from the store was so hot that it burned her skin. It could have happened to anyone who purchased the same soup at that time, but the woman reacted violently while others clearly did not follow suit. Why?
Social skills require a certain level of self-control, communication, empathy and much more. Clearly, the woman did not have enough skills to handle the situation appropriately.
The point is that, as parents, we have to approach this type of issue with empathy for the fact that learning to handle social interactions requires our children to juggle multiple skills, and it is understandable that some children struggle more than others.
- Anxiety or depression
When people struggle with anxiety or depression, it is already overwhelming for them to handle their daily emotions, let alone for them to think about others.
Unfortunately, social skills entail interacting with others and respecting their feelings. But when your child’s emotional stress is soaring through the roof and he or she is as unstable as a rollercoaster ride, expecting social skills from them might not be wise.
Also, anxiety and depression can sneak up on our children without visibly detectable symptoms. It could even be that our child’s lack of social skills affords us a cue to question our children’s emotional state.
- Children with certain diagnoses such as ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)
Children with certain disorders could show a lack of social skills. But since there are professionals to diagnose and help them with therapy and medication, I’d like to simply point these out as possible causes.
Signs of poor social skills
Children are generally able to learn social skills from a young age and develop as they grow. But socially awkward children show signs of deficiency in some areas that are necessary for social development.
Here are a few signs that could indicate a lack of social skills:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Refusing to greet
- Unable to cooperate
- Lack of “common sense”
- Unable to express empathy toward others
Children exhibiting some or all of these signs might have a hard time developing close friendships, are often excluded by their peers, isolate themselves wherever they go, and experience frequent emotional outbursts.
How to help our children develop social skills
I became a performer when I became a mom. What I mean by that is, I perform all the time in order to better communicate with my children. I sing. I dance. I tell stories, with words that my little children will understand, involving lots of sound effects. By doing that, one thing I learned early on is that children learn and communicate so much through role play.
Whether we play with toy cars or magnetic dress-up dolls really doesn’t matter, since children can make anything talk when they play.
The important thing is that I use this playtime to talk about many subjects that I want to explore with my children, such as jealousy, sharing, throwing, hitting, helping, and anger. The subjects are as endless as the reactions from my children. As we each enact the part of whatever toy we’ve picked, we can role-play different scenarios without making our children feel shy, and help them to open their hearts to new experiences.
- Indirect exposure
One good thing about living in the 21st century is that we can teach our children about the whole world while sitting at home. If you are able to spot areas where your child lacks in certain social skills, find videos or audio materials of proper behaviours as examples for your child to learn from and emulate.
- Direct Exposure
We parents should remember that we are the best teachers our children could have. Also, our actions are worth a thousand times more than our words.
So, it is much better for us to show our children what the expected behaviour is than to repeatedly correct or encourage them verbally.
In general, children with a lack of social skills tend to avoid situations where people expect certain words and actions from them that make them feel uncomfortable.
It is not a good idea, for example, to poke your child in the back and force him/her to “Say hello to Mrs. Johnson.” Instead, be on a constant lookout for opportunities to expose your child to uncomfortable situations. This will give them enough time to get used to new experiences and encourage them to find little ways of coping with each situation.
For example, talking with your child by asking, “I know you are not comfortable greeting other people, but it is hard for other people to understand you don’t want to do that because it makes you uncomfortable. It’s bad manners to ignore people we know – sometimes you have to do things so people know you care about them.”
Whenever your child expresses hesitation or uncomfortable feelings, it is important to listen and sympathize. And then maybe you can find a solution with your child by discussing what sorts of alternatives he/she could tolerate.
If your child doesn’t want to say hello, suggest a wave or a little nod. And then slowly move on to mouthing, “Hello” without a sound, and then a whisper, and eventually to speaking out loud.
The important thing is to help your children do things they can manage with their current skill set, and expand on that slowly and gradually without forcing them.
- Boost confidence
Help your children to know it is okay to make mistakes and no one is perfect. Show them as many examples as you can find of important people’s success after many failures.
It is important to remember, children who lack social skills feel things in a very different way than most of us. To us, it might be a simple greeting to close neighbours that we do without a second thought, but for them, it is a heart-pounding, muscle-twitching, stressful situation.
We as parents have to look at the situation through our children’s eyes and show our empathy, instead of treating them as though they are simply refusing to follow social norms because they are lazy or do not care.
Once we identify the areas of social skill our children lack, we should help them to build a tolerance to the situation so they can find a way to gradually build the skills they need to ease into their roles as members of society.