…Some of the skills that they will need to develop are:

Social rules of engagement

Socialrules of engagement simply refers to the cultural aspects of socializing. For example, when we meet someone, depending on our cultural background, we may respond differently. InJapan, it is customary for people to bow as a sign of  respect when they meet someone in a formal context. Yet in most contexts, a simple handshake will suffice, but this is not recommended if you are living in the Middle East and you are meeting a person of the opposite sex (I know I’m generalizing, but you get the point).

These cultural rules tend to get passed down from one generation to the next, and our children will learn it from us…things like how we show our appreciation to someone, what being polite looks like, what to do when you make a mistake and how do you makeup for it (if you have to), what qualifies as being rude, and so on.Young children need time and scaffolding to work these things out.

Conflict resolution skills

When two people are trying to get along, they will definitely run into conflicts due to differences of sorts…children are no different. They will need to learn conflict resolution skills such as sharing, taking turns, making compromises, learning to see things from other people’s viewpoints, etc.

Conflict resolution skills requires problem-solving skills and some level of communication skills, and until they have gotten relatively good at that, they will be trying out different methods which might be a bit more physical, aggressive, or rude, but we need to understand that young children are doing this not because they are intentionally nasty, but rather to view this as our children engaging in a learning process to figure out how to get along with their peers.

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Children’s success at making friends and meaningful relationships is dependent on their ability to learn the skills mentioned above. The sooner they “get it,” the more time they will have to practice and get really good at it, the more socially developed they will be. But as you can see, these learning processes do take time, and there are lots of skills that they will need to develop and until then, there will be lots of trial and error, and time spent observing others and experimenting.

To help them along, here are some things that we can do…

* Explain – be sure to take time off to talk to your child about how we relate to others and how we do it. This is when we can make these processes explicit, and to break it down for them so that complex concepts can be dealt with in manageable bits (e.g., explainwhy we need to say sorry when we’ve made a mistake, and what we can do to makeup for it).Even though the child observes our actions and words, they might not always understand why we do it, and how they can replicate it in other contexts.

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* Model – children learn by observing us. LikeI mentioned before, we don’t need to be perfect, we just need to keep trying.

* Have reasonable expectations – I think we sometimes need to remember that young children do not come with a set of social skills like we do, and that they need the time and guidance to figure it out. As such, it’s important to take their lead, and to look for readiness before we introduce them to new skills. *

* Provide opportunities – it’s important for us to provide opportunities for our children to learn to get along with other children. There are times that warrant us making play dates for them, and times for them to make friends on their own (like in playgrounds). The more they have opportunities to observe other people and to interact with them (in their own way, not ours), the more comfortable they will be with it.

Now, here’s a list of things that we shouldn’t do when it comes to facilitating the development of our children’s social skills…

* Don’t resolve conflicts or communicate for them – it’s one thing to model, and quite another to step in and do it for them. Modeling involves the parent showing the child how to do it,and then allowing the child to try it for himself; but doing it for them is when a parent steps in and does it for them with no expectation of the child attempting to do it on his own. So if you want to help your child, try not to resolve social conflicts for them. (If you would like to read up more on this, I have a blog post on ……”How play died when a parent decided to step in”).

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* Don’t force – young children do not socialize like we do. As such, though we can ask them to “shake hands” with strangers, we should by no means force them to do it…and personally, I’d prefer to ask my boys to give strangers high five’s rather than to hug them, kiss them, or to shake hands, as they may not be socially developed enough to do something like that.

* Don’t get frustrated – children are constantly learning…and in case you are unaware, while they are working out their social skills, they are also developing physically, emotionally, intellectually, and linguistically. As such, they will need time to figure it all out. If they don’t get it right at first, go back to modeling, scaffolding, and providing them with opportunities to practice.

If you would like to learn more about how to scaffold your child’s social skills so that he can be off to a good start, then you might want to check out my Inner Circle for Parents Program that shows you exactly how to walk your child through this process, step-by-step, and how to gauge if it’s working so that you can tweak your approach.



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