While you are worrying about your child’s academic year, he is probably more concerned about friends. Honestly, he has a point. While academic skills are an important part to future success and happiness, so are the social skills that help us make and keep friends.
Children at a very young age are usually too self-centered to have friends. This isn’t their fault; it is just a normal developmental stage. If you watch a couple of toddlers on a play date, they will usually engage in what is called “parallel play,” meaning they play side-by-side, but not really together. Even so, you can start to teach them to share, not to grab toys away, etc.
By school age, most children want friends, whether it is just one or many. Good social skills are learned from parents, teachers and peers. Here are some behaviors you can teach your kids that will serve them in school and throughout their lives.
- Kindness. Use kind words and tones around the house. Don’t allow your children to be unkind to their siblings, to pets or to adults. Everyone responds positively to kindness, and no one likes a bully.
- Politeness. (See our post on manners.)
- Assertiveness. You don’t want your child to be aggressive toward others, but you want her to be able to assert her opinions and express her feelings without being overbearing. This takes practice, and it can be something you encourage through conversation, questions, and even role playing. For example, “What will you say if your friend wants to play kickball and you’d rather swing?” They can learn from you the give-and-take of good relationships.
- Meeting and greeting. Teach your youngster to introduce himself and to ask questions about another person. They can learn to shake hands, make eye contact, smile.
- Listening. Hearing what another person has to say is as important as expressing your opinion.
Here’s a really nice FREE online resource entitled 101 Ways to Teach Social Skills to Children. While the games and activities are designed for groups, many of them can be adapted for use within the family—a fun way to learn appropriate ways of behaving in different settings.
Every school in Scott County has a counselor who can observe behavioral issues both in and out of the classroom, and who can meet with your child and/or other students if needed.
A final word: pay attention to the friendships your child/teen is forming. Get to know his friends and their parents. Make sure their behavior isn’t out of line with what you expect from your own kids.
The friendships we form in childhood and adolescence may or may not last a lifetime. But they teach us skills and behaviors that are timeless.
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