As children get older, they become part of a larger social world. They begin to form relationships with other children and adults in school as well as outside of school. Being sociable helps us with resilience (the ability to withstand hard times). Children who are constantly rejected by peers are lonely and have lower self-esteem. Parents can help their children learn social skills so they are not constantly rejected or begin to bully and reject others.
Parents can act as coaches for their children to develop these social skills. Children learn a lot from how parents treat them and when they observe how parents interact with others. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents use a 4-part strategy when helping their children develop social skills; Practice, Praise, Point out, and Prompt. These four steps can be used when parents notice that a child needs to work on a particular social skill. Before using them, however, the parent should point out the problem area sensitively and privately (not in front of others) to the child.
Practice: You can help your child substitute a specific appropriate response for a specific inappropriate one. This might mean brainstorming with the child about different alternative responses and then practicing one or more with the child. Practicing can involve mapping out actual words to say or behaviors to use, role-playing, and using the newly learned skills in real situations.
Praise: Reward your child with praise when the new skills are practiced as a way of helping the skills become habits. This might be a specific verbal statement (“You did an awesome job of X instead of Y when you got angry at the store”), a nonverbal sign such as a thumbs up, or even a treat (10 minutes extra play time before bed).
Point Out: Parents can use opportunities to point out when others are using the desired skill. It might be a specific behavior of the parent, another adult, a child, or even a character in a book or on TV. The idea is to give children examples and role models of people engaging in the appropriate social skill.
Prompt: Without nagging, parents can gently remind their child to use a new skill when the opportunity arises. This might be verbal (“Now might be a good time to count to ten in your head”) or nonverbal (a nonverbal cue such as zipping the lips when a child is about to interrupt).
Good coaches know that patience is important because learning new skills takes time and practice. It is important to remember that the ability to have good social relationships is not simply about personality or in-born traits. People who get along with others have learned skills to do so, and they practice these regularly.
Information gathered from Angela Wiley, Ph.D., “Importance of Teaching Social Skills to Children” and AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics
Sarah Peters, M.A., CCC-SLP