Developing Social Skills

Good social skills are necessary for success, security, and adjustment in life, whether in the home, the classroom, the playground or the community. When a child is able to interact well with others, she will develop and maintain resiliency when encountering stress and will be better able to compensate for shortcomings or failures in other parts of life. On the other hand, inadequate or inappropriate social skills-and the peer rejection that they may cause-can contribute to social, behavioral, emotional and academic problems.

What are social skills? They are the verbal and nonverbal behaviors that occur during everyday social interactions. Some are innate; most are learned. Usually, children learn their social skills at home, with friends in the community, at school or in places of worship. However, as these institutions change, the development of these skills is being affected. The American family structure, for instance, is in transition. More than ever before, mothers are working, and many children live in households with a single parent or as part of a stepfamily. No matter how the family is structured, it is not immune to marital, financial or health-related stresses, which can interfere with a family's time together. Yet families are the primary place in which children learn social skills.

America's schools are also changing. The diversity of students is increasing, and schools are being called upon to respond to an ever-widening range of individual abilities and needs. School personnel, who are having to cope with budget changes, redistribution of funds, and increasing class size, have new and increasing responsibilities, including the need to attend to the complex emotional and social needs of children. As schools stretch limited resources to address the academic needs of their students, the development of social skills may not get all the attention it deserves.

Furthermore, children increasingly spend more time outside the family in a variety of peer-group organizations, such as day care and preschool and after-school programs. As a result, time spent with other children is on the rise, increasing both the opportunity to learn and the need for good social skills.

Does Your Child Have Problems with Social Skills?
To help you understand how your child relates to others, talk to her teachers, coaches and even friends (in a confidential, discreet manner). What are her strengths? What are her difficulties? Do the difficulties appear to be isolated incidents, related to a specific difficult situation or stress? Or are they long-term problems, repeated patterns that are leaving her unpopular and unhappy? If they tend to fall into the latter category, you'll need to take some action. Try to pinpoint the components of social interactions that create the most problems for your child - for instance, does she have trouble reaching out and "breaking the ice," even with just simple statements such as "How are you today?"

If you suspect that your child has difficulties with social interactions, the following questions might help pinpoint the problem.

Does your child have difficulty:

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics