What can parents do, apart from sighing, when their children struggle with social skills?
The answer is – a lot, actually.
Overcoming social awkwardness is a massive challenge, even for adults, let alone kids.
Children who have a difficult time making friends may eventually suffer from anxiety, depression, aggression, and a swathe of other issues.
Thankfully, with a little help and nudge from parents and peers, they can overcome the awkwardness and build strong social skills.
Here are 6 tried and tested ways to encourage your child to adapt to every social setting and communicate better.
1. Teach Them How to Talk
Being able to initiate and hold a conversation is unarguably one of the most important social skills. Even as adults, many of us struggle with extremely poor communication skills, especially when we have to make a speech in front of a group or audience.
Learning basic communication skills is fundamental to a child’s social development and it will help them effortlessly adapt to different situations when the real world hits them.
Teaching basic conversation skills starts with explaining how to start a conversation with basic greetings like “hi” or “hello”.
Explain how to respond to non-verbal cues as well such as, waving, nodding, and smiling. Next, they need to learn how to patiently wait for their turn to speak instead of interrupting others when they are talking.
And when it’s their time to speak, they need to know how to be assertive and interject their opinion clearly, calmly, and politely.
2. Teach Them How to Listen
Being able to communicate effectively is just as important as listening to other people patiently. More often than not, the best way to offer empathy is to listen to what people have to say without asserting your opinion.
Since children have limited social skills, it’s crucial that their parents or caregivers get the kids to listen without interrupting. The first step to unlock this mission is to be a good role model for your kids.
Little humans are like sponges. They absorb anything and everything they see and hear. Listen to your child carefully when they have any concerns.
Maintain eye contact while talking to them. Use positive reinforcement like praising them verbally when they exhibit good active listening skills.
Hone your child’s listening skills further by letting them pretend-play with a toy telephone. Fun and easy games like “guess the sound” or “freeze dance” are also great for making your child a great listener.
3. Help them Broaden Their Social Circle
Humans are naturally hard-wired to be social animals; this includes even the most introverted of us. Many children are too shy and anxious when it comes to making new friends.
One easy way to alleviate this fear is by explaining to them what healthy friendship really means and helping them set healthy friendship goals. Help them find potential friends in their peer group by encouraging them to list the things they have in common with others.
Ask your kids “what do you reckon you and Jack have in common?” Set up playdates and plan fun and creative group activities with toys like fort-building, doctor’s set, RC car tracks, and my personal favorite, dueling lightsabers.
Speaking from my own experience, nothing bonds kids (and Star Wars adult fans, for that matter) faster than a high-voltage lightsaber duel.
4. Build Empathy with Pretend Play
Pretend playing allows kids to gain a different perspective, put themselves in others’ shoes and see the world through their eyes, and have lots of fun while doing so.
Several studies have suggested that participating in pretend playing house or family, dramatic play with realistic dolls or interactive toys fosters a sense of empathy in kids.
It can also promote strong verbal communication skills which are fundamental to building healthy relationships with family and peers.
While playing house, children learn to negotiate for the part they want to play and come to a mutual agreement with the other players. This seemingly simple act can teach children how to work with others to reach a common goal.
5. Ask Open-ended Questions
One of the most effective and nurturing ways to get children to communicate is to ask them questions – the right questions. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.
Instead, ask open-ended questions like “What do you think of the story I just read to you?”, “Why do you think you feel angry?”, and “How was your day in school? What did you learn today”?
Find a way to wedge the questions naturally into the conversation, in a no-pressure sorta way. If they don’t particularly feel chatty, leave them be for the moment or ask a different question, something that isn’t too intrusive.
6. Understand and Respect Your Child’s Limits
At the end of the day, we have to accept the fact that every child is wired differently. Some are simply more social than others. Being socially awkward is not something children choose to be. Be observant of your child’s social battery.
If they are not comfortable finding their tuning in a large social setting, don’t pressure them.
Dragging kids too far out of their comfort zone is not the way, letting them make meaningful relationships with a handful of people who are on the same frequency as them is.
In conclusion, watching your little fellow struggling to make friends or fit in can be difficult for parents.
Know that every child is built differently. While some kids are more comfortable socializing with their peers, some just don’t.
That said, there are evidence-based ways to help your kids step out of their comfort zone and build strong social skills, listen to others, and be heard.
Do your part by understanding them the way they want to be understood and being a good role model for them.
***Author Bio: Rebecca Miller