The Importance of Helping Kids Learn Social Skills

mother daughter talkingI recently came across some research that shows how important it is for kids to learn social skills. It stressed how significanct their social abilities – from kindergarten through high school – can be in relation to their successes later in life.

Social skills, which also can be called social intelligence, involve abilities to interact with others in ways that promote healthy, caring relationships. Social skills are about knowing how to be a friend to another person, how to share, how to problem solve together, how to handle conflicts in fair and healthy ways, or how to be empathetic and compassionate. It also involves dealing with emotions like anger and sadness, both in oneself and when responding to another person’s emotions.

The article, published in July 2015, stated: “The new study, a comprehensive 20-year examination of 800 children from kindergarten through their mid-20s… found a link between a child’s social skills in kindergarten and how well they were doing in early adulthood.

kids working on craftChildren who were helpful and shared in kindergarten were more likely to have graduated college and have a full-time job at age 25. The children who had problems resolving conflicts, sharing, cooperating and listening as kindergartners were less likely to have finished high school and college, and were more likely to have substance abuse problems and run-ins with the law.” [ will/living/kindergarten-social-skills-adult-success-study-feat/]

This study can serve as a wake-up call for schools and parents. With schools placing so much of their emphasis on academic performance and test scores, they may be missing a critical focus – how to help kids become more socially adept.

Teachers, who often are under pressure to have children achieve academically, may not be equipped to provide guidance to students that encourages their social skills. Parents who are often stressed out by a life and may themselves be limited in their social skills may be unaware of how important their role is in helping their children become better able to manage themselves in social interactions.
Another article on the website also focused on this research, providing some suggestions for parents: []:
“… parents can play games like ‘Red light, green light’ and ‘Freeze tag,’ which help kids learn how to control their bodies and can help them learn how to control their thoughts and emotions.
A way to practice building ‘grit and resilience and empathy’ in kids is spending time reading with them… When you read a book with your children, ask them questions about how the main character might be feeling, or what motivates the main character, or what you would do if you were in their shoes.”
Parents can also model social skills when they interact with their children. It might start with being intentional about noticing how they are feeling or talking about how to be compassionate and caring when they see other children struggling. Instead of asking what they did academically at school, ask them to talk about how they were kind, something they shared, how they handled arguments, how they stood up when another child was being bullied or felt alone for scared.

mother father daughter reading a bookParents might watch the movie “Inside Out” with their children which depicts some of what goes on in the inner world of a child. This movie specifically provides insight on emotions and how they can manifest within somebody. They might ask their children if they can recognize some of those emotions in themselves and if they’d seen them in their siblings, parents or friends. This can raise awareness about the dynamics of social interactions. The more children can appreciate their interpersonal dynamics and consider the interpersonal dynamics of other children, the better equipped they are to be socially adept.

body language wordweb With all the social media children are exposed to, they may not be learning real social skills. These require personal interactions, the ability to read faces, or act in kind and caring ways versus spending just a few seconds online in some kind of scripted fashion that usually is superficial in nature.

Giving children opportunities to play with each other, work through conflicts, learn to be fair and caring, able to recognize their own emotions and the emotions of others can all promote their abilities to be socially competent. And the research indicates this will help children achieve much greater success later in life.

While we all want to invest in our children’s futures, it is important to recognize where the investments should be placed. Obviously, we need children who are learning academically as well as socially. Perhaps we need to step back and take more time to consider and value their abilities to socialize in healthy, caring ways.

Invitation to Reflect

  1. What memories do you have of your social interactions when you were a child in school? To what extent did you feel you were able to make and keep friends, play with others in harmony and, when conflicts arose, knew how to work through them in fair and healthy ways?
  2. To what extent have you noticed how socially adept your own children are? To what extent do they seem to be socially competent when engaging with their friends and even with their siblings? Do they have opportunities at school for the kind of play that promotes socializing?
  3. What can you do to encourage your school to put sufficient emphasis on building social skills?