What are social skills and why are they important?
Social skills are the skills we need to get along with others. They include greetings, eye contact and turn-taking as well as the ability to have a conversation, persuade, negotiate, solve conflict and work collaboratively. Children with language difficulties often need explicit teaching of social skills.
It is important for children to develop good peer relationships in childhood as research has linked this to positive adolescent and adult mental health. Children with appropriate social skills are more likely to be active participants in classroom activities and are more independent learners.
Explicit teaching of social skills often begins with building children’s awareness of non-verbal skills in the following way:
- Praise appropriate eye contact (e.g. ‘I like the way you looked at me when you said hello’)
- Encourage your child to look at people when they are talking
- Use visual cues as a reminder (e.g. A picture of an eye)
- Talk about how close to stand to different people – this can include talking about safety and social circles (e.g. that it’s ok to hug mum and dad but not strangers)
- Talk about giving our friends room when talking to them or sitting next to them
- Reminders about sitting too close (or on other children!)
- If wanting to gain the attention of a friend – be gentle, try to use your words
- Use any games where your child needs to wait for their turn. Example of games include stacking games, sorting games, puzzles or rolling a ball
- Praise your child when they wait for their turn
- Gradually increase the amount of time they need to wait between turns
Observe your child for a while if you notice they do not use some of these skills easily then find some opportunities to reinforce them during everyday interaction. For example, encourage eye contact when greeting grandparents or friends who come to visit, play board games and card games as a family to encourage turn taking.