How to help your children develop positive social skills?
Some children find it easy and natural to make friends and form positive social circles from a young age, however other’s find it more difficult to form close bons and read social cues and create bonds with their peers. Some children will gravitate naturally towards particular people, naturally usually due to mutual interests or someone they instantly gravitate towards. Others, however, may find this more challenging. Some children are desperate to make friends but simply do not have the tools to know how.
They are often cast out as shy when inside there is an inner extrovert that has become overwhelmed with fear because they don’t know how to make the connections and not because they are innately shy. It’s our jobs as parents and nannies to be mindful of how we can gently guide the children in our care to feel comfortable in social situations. Here are some ways you can work with your children to assist them with their social skills and etiquette which no doubt will assist them positively throughout their lives.
If your child comes to your to speak about peer issues or you notice that your child may be struggling in social situations, then listening and approaching the conversation delicately is a great start. If you start to tell your child what to do and take this from the stance of your own perspective your child might feel as if their view of the situation doesn’t hold value. Firstly, it would be better to help your child understand their feelings clearly and then troubleshoot with your child allowing for their input.
Do not put Labels
Labels can be damaging, especially when we hear them from a young age. They seem to stick with us throughout our lives. Labels we never asked for and oftentimes people throw around easily without a second though to the person receiving them. Labels are usually freely given nonchalantly without the sender understanding the message they are giving.
Try to think more, not only when you are speaking with children but your peers too. Imagine a child that is desperate to join into the group of children playing at ease. They love what they see, those brave children playing carefree, they want to be that, yet haven’t quite learnt the skills in which to do so.
Then a parent or family friend, or Sandra from down the road decides to walk in and say “Oh, don’t worry about such and such, she’s just shy, she’ll grow out of it!” Think about the message that child is getting. That child was simply standing back, observing and probably learning a thing or two when bam, they are hit with a label. Words do affect people, especially children.
Validate your child’s needs
Children often respond as they have seen the adults around them responding to other children and it can often lead them to be at a point of weakness socially. If your child is subject to hearing people raise their voices or speak disrespectfully to others, then they will mimic that behaviour. Just as if they see their carers withdrawing and afraid in certain situations, they are likely to copy that.
If you notice your child acting out and behaving in damaging ways do not scold them, you know their heart and scolding them as opposed to guiding them will have a negative impact.
For example, you notice your child withdrew from a social situation, and as a parent that embarrassed you, you want your child to fit in, so you push them to do so without really understanding their feelings and needs in that moment. You are also showing them an element of conditional love. Which can and may affect their future friendships and relationships. In a moment like that we would advise getting on your child’s level, delicately approaching them and seeing if they are willing to share their feelings and when they do, be ready to validate their feelings.
From the example above, regarding withdrawing, your child might insist they are not as funny as the other children and afraid they will be laughed at if they interact. Do not simply brush their feelings off and say something like “Oh, don’t be so silly, you are wonderful” it just won’t work in building and maintaining their self-esteem. You could however explain that you understand, perhaps bring up a situation when you were challenged in the same way (be relatable) and how you managed to overcome it.
Teach your child healthy boundaries
Teaching your child healthy boundaries and how to establish them from a young age is very important.
Every child and person need this skill, yet so many are lacking in it. This can lead to poor and imbalanced friendships and relationships. Often those children who don’t learn boundaries grow up to see the world somewhat differently and have a lesser understanding of what is acceptable and what isn’t.
They wander why people cannot read them, yet they never developed the skill in showing and initiating their needs with people in a way that they feel comfortable with and confident in sharing with others, and understanding that other’s will respect them for it and if not, then they are simply not meant to be a part of each other’s lives.
I recently saw some siblings playing together, an older boy and girl with their little sister. The parents were watching on as they chased her and picked her up, squeezed her tight, kissed her and play fought with her. I could see the child was distressed and no matter how many times she screamed no and stop the siblings thought it was funnier and funnier to proceed. The parents sat and laughed, loving this sight and dynamic between their children. All I could see was a little girl that was not being heard or respected. Not for me to say, but perhaps the parents could have initiated a conversation with the elder children about boundaries and when to stop. Can you think of any examples like this, when children are powerless and not heard, even in the most innocent of situations?
Let them know they are heard
Let your children know that they are heard and they will feel like they can be heard.
Your children need to feel heard by you. This is paramount for their growth. For them to feel heard and develop empathy and listening skills towards others. We have an innate need to be felt and heard and it is our birth right to be exposed to people that can and want to hear us. An example of how you can show your child they are heard and understood could be the following example. So imagine your child comes to you and confides in you.
They had a bad day at school and said their friend was mean and they no longer want them to join the outing you have organised at the weekend with their other friends. Such and such was really mean and I don’t like them anymore.
Which of the two responses do you feel would have your child understand they are being heard by you?
- “I’m sure they didn’t mean to upset you, we can’t not invite them now, forgive and forget, move on”
- “It sounds to me like what they said was hurtful to you and you felt embarrassed by what was said in front of the other children. You probably think they were trying to hurt you and I can understand why you wouldn’t want them to join us this weekend”
Number two shows your child they have been heard and that you empathise with their feelings. With a response like this their feelings of hurt and anger will likely lessen and they will be able to make a more well rounded decision knowing you have supported them. Reflect on their feelings and don’t dismiss them, even if they don’t align with your own beliefs.
Sometimes following this advice is hard as adults, we are leading busy lives and often try to solve the issues on the spot and carry on. Additionally, if we ourselves have grown up with that lack of recognition we will be likely to continue the cycle with our own children or the ones we care for. Let us all take responsibility to break the cycle and rejoice in love and care.
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