How to Teach Children Social Skills in 2023

how to teach children social skills
Credit: Artem Kniaz

Social skills are an incredibly important element to daily life, as we are constantly interacting with humans whether it’s on a screen, in-person, or on the phone. Children must learn these social skills as they grow up, and it’s our job as parents to teach them. Check out our article on how to teach children social skills, and improve your child’s chances at making lasting impressions with others.

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How Do Kids Learn Social Skills?

how to teach children social skills
Credit: Artem Kniaz

Kids learn social skills from the people around them, as well as their own day-to-day interactions. For instance, your child can learn how to say “thank you” by hearing you say it, or hearing someone else say it. Children are quite malleable, so it’s quite important to make the right choices in front of you children so if they do copy you, then they are copying the right behaviors.

What Are the Signs of Poor Social Skills in Children?

There are several signs of poor social skills in children, and as a parent you should be looking out for these issues. If they do occur, then you need to correct the behavior so they can act with proper social skills. Some signs include talking too much, sharing information in inappropriate ways, taking metaphorical things literally, being a poor listener, not recognizing when people are annoyed, and withdrawing from conversation with others. These are not all of the signs, but some big ones to look for in your child.

What Causes Poor Social Skills in Children?

There are several causes for poor social skills in children, some being conditions the child is diagnosed with, or other issues in their lives that are affecting their social skills. In terms of their life at home, children may get poor social skills from language barriers, anxiety, depression, stressful situations they must deal with at home, trouble with self-control, or communication difficulties.

If you look at conditions, children that struggle with social skills may have Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Non-verbal Learning Disability (NVLD), or Social Communication Disorder (SCD). Anxiety and depression could also fall under this list, but often those conditions are brought on by other factors in the child’s life. If your child does in fact have one of these conditions, it is best to consult with a doctor on next steps and how to encourage better social skills for the future.

What Are Some Examples of Social Skills for a Child?

Most of these skills boil down to four categories — the ability to share, cooperate, listen, and respect others. They also have several emotional skills weaved into the physical social skills, such as following directions, having patience, empathy, and positivity. Check out our descriptions on each below, and how they help a child’s social skills.

4 Critical Social Skills to Teach Children

These are our top four critical social skills to teach children:

4. Sharing

Sharing may include ideas or physical items that your child is using. Having the ability to share will not only improve their teamwork skills, but also teach your child that sharing your possessions is okay. If your child has siblings, this skill should be easier to teach as they have to share their toys constantly at home.

3. Cooperating

Though we may not always agree with each other, cooperation is a must in order to get anywhere in life. This is a perfect skill for children to learn before they get into school, as there will be several different personalities they will interact with. This may look like agreeing or disagreeing in a conversation, or working together to accomplish a physical goal, like building a tower.

2. Listening

Listening is probably the biggest skill we want from our children, because they are constantly listening to us as we give directions and interact with other adults. We need them to absorb our lessons, and the only way to do that effectively is through listening. It’s also useful in the reverse fashion as we listen to our children and their complaints or issues, so that we can better understand them.

1. Respecting Personal Space

Personal space is important to everyone, I don’t care how extroverted you are. There are just some things that should not be touched or messed with. This is the same with children, though they do not get the concept quite yet. Teaching them how to respect their friend’s personal items is a must for when they go to school, and even at home with their siblings.

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Important Social Skills for Kids

Check out our top four important social skills for kids:

4. The Ability to Follow Directions

Following directions correlates to the listening social skill listed above, and is crucial for children who must follow the rules of a teacher or other adult when their parent is not around. This can also boil down to respect for those who are older than you, since they have the knowledge to give you direction.

3. To Learn Patience

Patience is huge for a kid, because most of the time they want something instantaneously which often cannot happen. The best way to teach patience is by acknowledging they want something, and then telling them they need to wait calmly. It might take a few tries before your child figures this out, but when they do, it’ll be a huge relief for you.

2. To Have Empathy

Caring about the emotions of others will help your child act appropriately with their social skills, and know when to say the right thing. Often children who lack social skills will also lack empathy, because they do not realize how emotions can cloud what another is saying. Empathy also allows us to connect with one another and create those friendships that last a lifetime.

1. To Have Positivity

Always be positive! Your child will learn from your negative or positive emotions, so try not to be super angry all the time. They will absorb this more than you know. Teaching your child to be positive is also very important, because it’ll bring more happiness to them in the long run. Not many kids are going to want to spend time with someone who’s grumpy or mean, so instill in your child that positivity is a great social skill to have in life.

What Are the Five Steps in Teaching Social Skills?

5. Activate Background Knowledge

  • What is the skill? How do we define it?
  • Identify the importance of this skill

4. Direct Teaching

  • Identify aspects that are concrete about the skill
  • Teach the steps of the skill

3. Model the Steps

  • A combination of telling and sharing; illustrate the steps of the skills
  • Always end with the correct way of using that skill

2. Practice the Skill

  • Allow the child or student to practice the new skill
  • If needed, adjust the interactions to make sure they are doing the skill correctly

1. Transfer and Generalize the Skills

  • Prompt and reinforce the skills whenever possible or necessary
  • Use misbehavior or misuse as a teaching opportunity to positively enact change

How to Tell if Your Child Has Problems with Social Skills?

You can tell if your child is having social skills problems if they have trouble connecting with other kids, understanding what’s expected of them in social situations, missing social cues or body language, and may talk too much and say things that are inappropriate. If you start to notice these actions more in your child, you should try introducing the correct social skills or get your child tested for ADHD or other conditions.

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10 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills

How to Teach Children Social Skills in 2023
Credit: CDC

Try these ten ways on how to teach children social skills:

10. Practice Talking

Practicing conversations and what to say is a perfect way to dive into social skills. Your child will learn how to properly address teachers, fellow students, or you the parent. This can become a fun game to see if the child finds the correct response to all sorts of conversations.

9. Show Importance of Body Language

Body language is a huge sign if someone is happy, sad, or angry, and your child should learn how to spot some of these movements. Frowning, teary eyes, smiling, rolling eyes, crossing the arms, and other physical movements should be taken into account. For instance, you don’t want your child picking on a kid who’s already about to cry, or have them say a potentially rude comment to a kid who’s staring daggers at them already.

8. Teach Them to Share

Mentioned above, sharing is the best way to make friends and is an essential social skill to have around others. Though your child should know that they have personal items they can choose not to share, there are other items like toys, markers, or erasers in classrooms that should be shared amongst classmates.

7. Encourage Eye Contact

In addition to good verbal communication, your child should also have good eye contact in order to maintain proper social skills. Eye contact shows you’re engaged with the conversation, and that you care about the person enough to give them your undivided attention. Similar to practicing conversations, you can practice eye contact with your child and show them the importance of giving someone else your attention.

6. Pen-Pals

This one may seem a little out-dated, but writing to another friend, family member, or stranger is a great way to develop social skills. You will be able to show right on the paper where to add congrats, or condolences, or words of encouragement to the receiver of the letter. You can find some great pen-pal programs here.

5. Practice Roleplaying

Similar to practicing talking and eye contact, role playing is a great way to get children to learn how to use social skills. This is a perfect game for them, as many children play “doctor” or “house” with their siblings or friends. You’re just taking the game to another level by teaching them lifelong skills.

4. Encourage Teamwork

Teamwork is a huge component of social skills, because you are constantly working together with a team. The best way to get your child some social skills is by placing them in a sport or extra curricular that requires being part of something. They will not only make friends but learn how to be a part of a team using their social skills.

3. Be a Good Role Model

Monkey see, monkey do, right? Our children are sponges that absorb everything we do, so you should really pay attention to what kinds of emotions or social skills you are displaying in front of your child. I know my parents also made a point to argue away from my brother and I, so we didn’t have to experience that tension. It helps to give your child a positive environment, and show them how to use those social skills correctly.

2. Reinforcement

So you’ve taught your child the necessary skills they need. Now you need to make sure they continue to follow those rules by reinforcing those social skills. This can be done by verbally correcting them, physically showing them what they are doing wrong and how to fix it, or allowing another adult to correct them.

1. Know Your Child’s Limits / How to Teach Children Social Skills

When you are teaching your child all of these new ways to be social, expect a little push-back from them. These are completely new concepts, and some are harder to conform to than others. Knowing your child’s limits is a huge plus while teaching them social skills, because then you know when not to push them too far.

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What Problems Can Occur When a Child Faces Social Skill Difficulties?

how to teach children social skills
Credit: Taylor Flowe

If your child struggles with social skills, there might be other problems that arise because of the lack of social skills. These can include your child’s behavior, sensory processing, completing academic work, receptive and expressive languages, articulation, fluency, and self-regulation. If your child cannot speak properly using their social skills, they might act out physically or have inappropriate behavior. Plus, if they cannot understand their sensory processing, they might have trouble staying focused in class or participating in larger group activities.

If these issues are left unchecked, it can become very problematic for your child going forward since their social skills must grow with them in order to deal with middle school, high school, college, and adult life situations.

Think About How You Give Directions

When fixing your child’s social skills, the most important part is finding a way to teach them in a healthy way. You must understand the troubles your child has before trying to find a way to fix them. Yelling or punishing your child every time they do something wrong will not get you very far when trying to teach them social skills. Punishment should really only be used if they are continuously doing something bad on purpose, or lashing out at you.

The best way to give directions about social skills is constructively. Be patient with your child and show them the right way, along with lots of examples and role-playing. They will follow your example above all else, so if you’re being socially difficult, they will too.

Benefits of Teaching Social Skills to Children

Social skills are a huge part of everyday interactions with others, and as children it is even more important as they are building the groundwork to who they are. The benefits far outweigh any risks you might have when teaching your child social skills as they will carry these into adulthood. Not only will you have a well-tempered child that can take care of themselves at home, but you will have a young piece of the community that participates and grows through their own social interactions.

Teaching social skills to children is a must for parents, so hopefully our article on how to teach children social skills will help you the next time you need to talk to your child.

Alexandria is a News Editor, writer, and reader of all things literature. She graduated from the State University of... More about Alexandria Wyckoff

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