Struggling in certain social environments is something that both adults and children can experience, and it can be traumatic for those concerned. As parents, it can be incredibly heart-wrenching, watching your child struggle to make new friends and feel isolated. In contrast, other children appear to be coping quite comfortably and therefore gaining more from situations. Learning to develop better social skills is something that as parents, guardians and teachers, we all have a role to play.
As the leading kindergarten in Bangkok, at Kidz Village, we actively work with each child to help them to develop the skills which they will need in later life. However, it crucial that you also understand the role that you play in developing these essential skills that will help your children to adapt to different social settings. Although all children are unique and respond differently, some common themes will help them to develop into independent and confident individuals, something that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.
1. Take an active interest in what they are doing
Adapting to any situation is far easier when it is something that you genuinely enjoy, and this is definitely the case when it comes to social settings. Feeling comfortable will help your child to relax, which will help them to develop a range of skills naturally. As parents, you should actively take an interest in things that your child enjoys. It might be participating in their favourite sport, taking them to dance or music classes or perhaps taking them to see a movie. Showing rather than just telling them that you are interested will inevitably make your child feel more comfortable.
Feeling comfortable and relaxed is arguably the first step in building social skills and will also help to put your child in an environment where other like-minded children surround them. If they feel that they have something in common, socialising will be far more comfortable. It would help if you tried to encourage your child to develop a diverse range of interests as this will help them to mix with others and become more broadminded. Mixing in different environments will also make them more confident in new settings.
2. Ask questions and wait for responses
Long periods of silence can be uncomfortable for adults, but they are particularly intimidating for children who are likely to get nervous when the conversation lags. This nervousness can result in your child becoming more introverted, which will sadly make them more socially awkward and reluctant to engage in new settings. The Centre for Development and Learning believes that there are numerous ways in which you can engage with your child and either initiate and continue positive conversations.
Asking questions is one of the best ways to initiate a conversation, but you must wait for an answer or reword your question. Your child should never feel under any pressure as this will again make them more nervous and potentially introverted. Your questions should be focused around what your child is talking about as this will help them to make a connection and thus, easier to give a suitable response. Your questions should be structured in such a way that means your child has to give far more than just yes or no answers.
3. Roleplay games
Pretend play forms a crucial part of a child’s learning, especially in their early formative years. Roleplay games can be used with children of all ages, and it will help them to practice and therefore enhance their social skills. If you search online, you will find several role-playing ideas as well as practical tips. Finding games that match your child’s interests will inevitably help them to retain their concentration and reduce the chances of boredom setting in.
One frequently used game is to encourage your child to take on the role of someone that they have trouble talking to or making friends with. This has multiple benefits; firstly, it gives you as a parent the opportunity to see how your child perceives this person and secondly, it may give you some indication of what that person is like. Once you understand this, you will be able to offer practical advice regarding handling the situation. Switching roles may also help your child to talk with that person effectively.
A vital part of role play is to include body language, such as maintaining eye contact and smiling. Children often have trouble understanding the importance of body language, so it is your role to show and explain your body language. Once they understand specific actions and the responses they can trigger, they will appreciate their importance.
A child must appreciate how other people, both children and adults, feel. It will help them to form connections and develop positive bonds as well as helping them to understand the consequences of their actions. Parents and teachers can help to teach a child empathy by explaining different situations and scenarios that the child may experience. You should again ask questions such as how they would feel if another person acted in the same manner. Sometimes a child may experience guilt in these situations, so you mustn’t push the point too far.
Another element of empathy is learning to listen to others actively. Children, through no fault of their own, can be selfish as they have been used to being the sole focus of your attention. Encouraging empathy will help to realise that sometimes they must put other’s feeling first, and this involves listening to what they say. Teach your child to focus on what others are saying and then consider what has been said when they have stopped talking. They should be encouraged to ask questions where appropriate, although they shouldn’t interrupt.
5. Understand your child’s limitations
You must appreciate that all children are different and that some will be naturally more sociable than others. Outgoing children will find it easier to mix with others, but it is important not to push a child who is more introverted and shy too much as this can make them feel more uncomfortable. As a parent, you mustn’t try to turn your child into something which they aren’t and should know their limitations as well as their natural personality.
Some children will always be comfortable amongst large groups while others will prefer smaller groups where they can relate to their peers on a more one to one basis. It is also important to remember that children have relatively short attention spans, so forcing them to spend too long in a situation or environment is likely to be met by resistance. This is particularly relevant with younger children or if a child has special needs. All children are different, and you should tailor any help regarding their social skills around their personality.
6. Look at yourself and be a good role model
Children will always follow and copy the behaviour of those around them, so it is crucial that you become a good role model and behave appropriately in front of your child. You should become consciously aware of how you interact with others, sometimes even exaggerating your behaviour when you know your child is watching. Some adults can be shy when behaving in this manner, but it is perfectly normal, and peers will understand that you are teaching your child.
When you do engage with others, you should think about the points we have discussed such as asking the right questions, actively listening to what others say and considering to consequences of what is said and done. Do you exhibit empathy in your interactions with friends, neighbours and family, or do you behave in a more self-centred manner? When you interact with others and wish to be an effective role model you should always use forethought and make a conscious effort to ensure that you are behaving in a way which you would want your children to follow.
Children are always watching every move you make and look up to you. They will follow your actions so even if you are having a bad day, you must be aware of everything that you do.
Developing good social skills is something that will take time and is a gradual process. You will need to demonstrate patience in some situations and not expect to witness massive changes overnight. Social skills are something that we all need to work on, and this work will continue into adulthood. The most important thing as a parent is that you give your child the right foundations on which they can build on throughout their life.
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We hope that this article explained just some of the ways that you can help your child to better social skills. Our acclaimed international school in Bangkok strives to provide the ideal environment to promote better social skills. For more information, please call us on +66 2888 3337 and we will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.