Monday, 15 June 2015

Psych of Parenting 4: Teaching Social Skills

Now that we know how important peer relationships are in determining children's functioning in school, how can we improve their ability to make and maintain positive social relationships?

One way is to teach them social skills in a concrete manner such that even young children can put them into practice.

Here are SEVEN Social Skills to teach our kids (me included):

1) Making Eye Contact
It seems very intuitive but for kids (every child is different, some need it more than others), this is something that has to be taught. I personally try to teach my girl this by constantly reminding her to look me in the eye when she is explaining something to me or when I am telling her something.

2) Showing Understanding and Empathy
This can take the form of asking your child, "how do you think your friend feels when you snatch her toy? Would you like people to snatch your toy?" Ask questions to get your child to think from the perspective of another person (in Child Psychology, this is also known as Theory of Mind).

Do note though that very young children such as toddlers have no concept of theory of mind yet so do be patient with them.

3) Receiving & Giving Praise
This is something I need to teach my girl as well. When people praise my girl, she tends to shy away or ignore the compliment. I have had to remind her to say thank you. Same for giving praise.

4) Expressing Positive & Negative Feelings Appropriately
The key word here is appropriate. It's good to be proud of your accomplishments but it is not good to be boastful. It's okay to feel angry but it is not okay to hit others.

"It's good that you are proud of your painting but you shouldn't laugh at your friend for not painting as nicely. How will you feel if people laughed at you for not knowing how to (insert weakness)?"

Reiterate again the importance of perspective-taking, i.e. taking the perspective of others.

5) Resolving Fights Correctly
Some of us adults are still learning this, especially with so many keyboard warriors fighting it out online (it can get very ugly)!

I am still learning as well so I don't have any foolproof suggestions. For now, I will tell my girl to avoid conflict as much as possible and always give way to someone smaller. However if she were to get into a fight with a peer her age, I usually let her resolve it herself and only stepping in if it escalates and someone will be/is hurt (so far no, hope it stays that way).

My kids are very assertive so I don't have to worry that they get bullied. In Melbourne an Aussie boy in the playground kept pushing my girl and she announced very loudly to me (and their parents who were sitting nearby!), "Mummy, I don't want to play with this boy!!! HE KEEPS PUSHING ME!!!" Before I could react the parents sheepishly took the boy away and left (I did have a talk with her about the way she said it though).

To be perfectly honest, I prefer that my kids are the bullies instead of the victim. That way the ball is in my court to discipline them and make sure they don't do it again. If they were the victims then the ball is in the other parent's court, and depending on who you are dealing with, that may or may not be as easy to resolve. Anyway, I'm OCD so of course I prefer to have control *laughs* But that's just me hehe.

6) Saying Thank You
This is obvious I guess. It's always nice to make other people feel appreciated =)

7) Asking for and Providing Help
Both the asking and the providing goes hand in hand. We should also teach them how to ask for help in a polite way that will elicit a helpful response.

In therapy, psychologists would often get their clients to role play different situations so that the client can practise these skills. As parents, we should also be modelling these skills for our kids to follow (this I'm also still working on).

Hope that you had found these social skills as helpful as I did! =)

This post is part of my infographic series on the Psychology of Parenting.
Follow me as I attempt to make psychological research more understandable =)

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