You know the saying “no man is an island?”Well, it’s true, because we all need to be with people to function well…however, good social skills is not something that comes naturally to many people, and this is definitely something that we need to cultivate in our children from an early age. Social skills are often overlooked, because many of us tend to have the assumption that good social skills will automatically develop when we are in social settings…well, that is not really the case.
Let me give you an example…I was raised in Asia, where the culture (back in the 1980’s) is grounded in the concept of “children should be seen and not heard.”As such, I grew up feeling very small, like “no one wants to hear what I have to say because it’s not important anyway,” and for the longest time, I had so much difficulty making friends with my colleagues, especially when they were older than me or in more formal settings. The lack of social skills, coupled with (or contributed to) a lack of self-confidence when it comes to socializing, made networking later in life highly problematic.
I quickly deduced that I might be an introvert, and will never really enjoy socializing…untilI started learning these social skills, and slowly but surely, I started forming meaningful relationships with more and more people. This not only translates into me having more friends, but also me having more clients and work prospects.
I’ve also managed to get in front of some very prominent people, and have had them on my podcast for interviews…and though I still prefer to be on my own most times and to do things on my own, I now know that if I really needed to network or to make friends, that I will have the confidence and skills to get along with just about anyone!
But you see,that took me 20 years to learn, counting from the time that I realized it was a handicap to not have good social skills. But now, with my boys, I’ve started them young, they had developed such great social skills by the time they got to elementary school, and I can see their social skills get even more refined with practice as they are approaching middle school.
Nowhere’s the thing, the process of developing social skills is not as easy as it looks. We have briefly discussed in chapter 4 that young children need to have some level of personal (and emotional) development before they can learn to reach out to others and to develop socially. A child who is confident, calm, and happy will likely have a lot more ease making friends, because he will naturally attract others to him. On the contrary, a child who is anxious (and lacks self-confidence) tends to be less interested in meeting new people, and would often rather play by himself, making it a lot more challenging for him to make friends.
As such, we need to make sure that all of these areas are catered to during the early years before it compromises their learning experiences and stifles their development. The area of emotional development, resilience, and childhood anxiety is an area that is close to my heart, and I’d address these issues in almost all of my training courses for parents to help them be aware of the emotional needs of young children and how to look out for childhood anxiety.
Now, assuming that your child’s emotional needs are met, and personal development is being looked into, there is still so much for young children to learn in order to be able to get along well with their peers. Some of the skills that they will need to develop are:
Even before young children learn to speak, they are already learning how to communicate with others by observing us and how we communicate with them and other people in our environment. Once they learn to speak, they will need some important skills such as maintaining eye contact, taking turns to speak, using a combination of verbal and non-verbal cues (to convey the right message), and making a distinction between a question and a remark, and so on and so forth. These skills may seem rather basic, and it’s easy for one to assume that young children pick these things up rather naturally just by observing the people around them.
This is true even though with some skills, young children may need a little bit more help with some explicit instruction and demonstration so that they understand why it’s important and how to do it properly. However, this is not always the case, depending on how we model good communication skills with our children. I’ve seen all too often parents who would speak to their children while they are browsing on their mobile phones, parents who don’t really speak with their children but who talk at their children, or parents who often choose to nag or scream or tell off their children most of the time.
Our children see all of these communication skills that we use at home, and if you want to see what it looks like in their home, you just have to observe a group of young children playing at the playground, and you will be able to figure out what kinds of communication skills they have picked up from home.
We need to model good communication skills, learn to be present when we are with them, and to really pay attention to how we are communicating with them. A good place to start would be by observing them for poor communication skills that we’d like to work on and then, we need to take a closer look at ourselves to make sure that we don’t do that to begin with.
If we do, then we can embark on a learning journey together to help each other get better at it. Remember, children learn from modeling, but that doesn’t mean we have to be perfect (or we won’t qualify to teach them anything)…however, it does mean that we have to keep trying and to show them that we are chipping at it a little at a time.