You’re feeling frustrated and hopeless– will my kid ever have friends? Will they ever play well with others? A key to this answer is social skills, and they ARE learnable. What are social skills? They are the skills we use everyday to interact with others, and these skills are not just limited to the words we use. In addition to verbal communication, we communicate with others using facial expression, tone of voice, body language and so much more! Social skills are important because they allow us to cultivate and maintain positive relationships with others. It is extremely difficult to make & sustain friendships without cultivating social skills.
For some children, social skills come naturally. However, they do not for many others, and that is okay! Luckily, just because your child is struggling now, this does not mean they have to struggle forever. Social skills are learnable, and, just like every other skill worth learning, they require lots of practice to develop. If you’re concerned about your child’s social skill development, here are some ways you can help:
4 Ways to Help Your Kid Develop Social Skills:
1. Consider a Play Group. A play group can be a wonderful way to give your child the space to learn and practice the skills required for social interaction. Play groups are an excellent way to bolster social skills because they exist in a consistent, judgment-free, therapeutic environment. Unlike individual therapy, play groups provide the opportunity for children to practice implementing these new skills alongside their peers. A child’s first language is play, and through play groups children are able to learn and practice social and coping skills in a low pressure and exciting environment!
The Center for Mindfulness & CBT offers a monthly Social Skills Play Group for children ages 4-14 (one group for ages 4-9 and another for ages 10-14) that focuses on helping children practice social skills in real life situations. Our dedicated child therapists lead these sessions through play and hands-on activities. Each month, the group meets for a 1.5 hour session. During each session, the group spends time in lessons, discussing the social skill of the month, then spends the duration of the time in hands-on play structured to allow for the honing of the social skills discussed. If you are interested in learning more about this group, click here.
2. Teach Empathy & Active Listening
When we have a better understanding of how others feel, we are much more likely to feel connected to them and are more likely to form positive relationships. Teaching empathy can be done simply by giving ourselves permission to discuss how different situations/ scenarios might make us and/or others feel. This sounds simple, but it can be quite difficult at first. Sharing our feelings is a very vulnerable behavior. By learning to discuss our thoughts and feelings openly, we also teach our children how to actively listen. Active listening involves focusing on what others are saying with interest and concern. Both empathy and active listening are crucial in making and maintaining friendships.
3. Practice Role Playing
Role playing can be a great way for kids to actively practice social skills. If your child is having particular difficulty getting along with a certain peer, it may be helpful to role play various potential interactions with the peer. During the role play, consider suggesting ways in which your child can more effectively talk with the individual. Don’t forget to include body language such as eye contact and smiling while practicing!
4. Be Patient
It can be really difficult to watch our children struggle and not want the problem to be solved immediately. Remember that, in just the same way that our skills of walking and talking were not developed overnight, social skills take time to grow, too. Give your child the space and grace to gradually develop these skills at their own pace, and they’ll soon flourish!
If your child is struggling with making friends and social skills, you are not alone. The first step is acknowledging the areas for growth, and these 4 steps can help you better understand what your child needs to grow and thrive.