Teaching Children Effective Social Skills
Every parent wants their children to grow up to be productive, happy adults. But what makes people happy? More than any other single factor, happiness comes from an ability to get along with other people.
Happy people are those who have close, warm relationships with a significant number of others. When disaster strikes, people who can form close relationships are better able to weather the storm, despite temporary grief or loss. One of the most important things a parent can do for their children is to help them develop social skills and good relationships.
Socially successful people are attractive—but not solely on the basis of personal appearance. They make a good impression on new acquaintances, creating a desire for a closer relationship. They’re able to meet other people’s emotional and social needs. They offer rewarding friendships. Finally, socially successful people have no irrational expectations of others. Secure in themselves, they’re able to cope with occasional indifference or rejection.
Improving Personal Attractiveness
Teach your children early that personal attractiveness goes beyond physical appearance. Superficial good looks may at first attract others, but appearance alone is seldom sufficient to support successful long-term relationships.
Here are ten simple suggestions to help children improve their attractiveness to others:
1. Observe cleanliness.
Anyone can improve his or her appearance simply by keeping themselves clean, well groomed, and orally hygienic. Before they leave home, have them make sure they have no offensive breath or body odors. Children should learn early to bathe regularly and dress neatly.
2. Dress in socially acceptable clothing.
Don’t clothe your child in strange or unusual styles. If their friends wear jeans to school, allow them to follow suit. In their middle-and high-school years, a children’s self-image is largely shaped by peer acceptance. If their friends think they look dorky, that’s two strikes against them.
3. Practice good manners.
Teach your children the simple rules of courtesy, helpfulness, graciousness, and decency that help smooth social relationships. Children need to develop basic respect and tolerance for others’ thoughts, actions, and opinions. They’ll learn this only if you treat them with similar respect. If you deride their opinions—“That’s dumb”—they’re likely to treat their friends the same way.
When you disagree with what they have to say, do it politely, respecting their right to hold a different opinion. Treat the mistakes of others with good humor, tolerance and understanding.
4. Achieve competence.
Attractiveness means being valuable and interesting to others. Help your children find things they can become good at. Encourage them to learn baseball, rock climbing, or how to play a musical instrument. Let them become acquainted with new innovations in computer technology, cars, sports, books, music and other interesting subjects. If they aren’t well informed about the world they live in, they’ll have little to share with others.
5. Learn verbal skills.
Most social interactions take place on a verbal level. Talk frequently with you children about things that interest them and things that interest you. Encourage them to express themselves often about a variety of subjects. Include them in conversations with your friends. Verbal skills are honed through a lifetime of practice.
Verbal skills shouldn’t be limited to small talk. To sustain healthy relationships, your children need to learn to talk about their feelings. Verbalize your own feelings so they can learn the vocabulary of emotional expression.
6. Minimize or correct physical flaws.
If your child has crooked teeth, by all means get them straightened at the appropriate age. Acne can ruin a teenager’s life—consult a dermatologist as soon as pimples begin developing to avoid permanent scarring. Help your children avoid obesity. Once they think of themselves as fat, the battle for physical fitness becomes much harder.
The same is true of obnoxious personal traits. If your child is a grabber, a screamer or a pouter, overcome those problems early by a consistent reinforcement of more positive traits. Habits that could make their lives harder in the future should be corrected early.
When children lack good social skills, other children will often ignore them, fueling insecurities and damaging their feelings of self worth.
7. Encourage children to be helpful.
Children can learn to give many kinds of help. Teaching your five-year-old to take the silverware out of the dishwasher so Mommy doesn’t have to do the work alone helps set the stage for your child’s future happiness. Years later, that child won’t hesitate to pitch in and help a friend trim a hedge or run errands. Working together is important to friendship.
8. Provide emotional aid.
Children need to learn to give comfort, as well as receive it. They can begin when they’re very small. “Look, Darrell, Amy fell down and hurt her knee. We need to help her feel better. Let’s give her a love.”
You can do the same things in your family by bringing appropriate problems into the open. “We need to be especially nice to Don tonight, Ben. He’s had a bad day—Sarah broke up with him. Maybe you could help him take his mind off it by taking him outside to shoot a few baskets.” Children need to feel a responsibility toward others they care about.
9. Encourage perceptiveness.
Unfortunately, there’s no sure way to teach your child how to understand others. Even trained psychologists often fail to fully understand their patients. But you can at least train your child to try.
“Why do you think Arnie’s so angry with you?” you ask your daughter.
“I don’t know,” she responds.
“What are some things that might have caused it?”
She thinks about this and together you come up with a list of possibilities. The answers you come up with aren’t half as important as teaching your child to look for answers. The more she looks for the reasons behind others’ actions, the better she’ll become at understanding and this will help her be a better friend.
10. Guard personal security.
Perhaps most important of all is your children’s personal security. A person who doesn’t believe he’s desirable won’t willingly enter social situations. It is important to help your child develop a good self-image.
People who have never been in a demanding social situation and have no concept of how to behave—or carry on a conversation—shy away from social contact. They’re likely to fail in many social situations, and each failure adds to their certainty that they just can’t cope. It’s vitally important for your child to have many experiences in social success. This helps the child build confidence and feel personally secure around others.
Inevitably, children experience rejection as they grow up. Other children may ignore them or exclude them from a group. How do you handle this?
“They’re not good enough for you anyway!” is one strategy many parents use. But this only teaches the rejected child to retaliate. “Getting even” is never a good strategy. Instead, comfort the child and reassure them of their worth. “I know you a lot better than they do, and I like you a lot,” you say. Your child may pretend these words don’t help but don’t believe it. These worlds often help a lot.
There’s no way to make your child entirely emotionally self-sufficient. But you can give your children enough inner strength to rebound from rejection and return to other existing or new friendships as quickly as possible. Help them avoid dwelling on failed relationships.
As parents, you can change your children’s environment and help them grow and be happy. The results won’t be uniform as every child is different. But it’s your reasonability to give your children the best chance of success in life that you possibly can. Helping them develop better relationships through improved social skills will pave the way to lifelong happiness.