I believe that we were created to be social beings – we need other people. It is well known that we all desire to be loved, accepted and to belong.
There are many different spheres of our kids life that are classified as social: they have school, sports, friends, hobby groups, clubs, and their family. I believe that our family is the first place where we develop social skills but often we see family as just that – family – and we allow a sense of familiarity to dictate our actions toward each other, and we leave our best behaviour for when we are with other people. This should not be so.
We have been given our family as a practice ground for future relationships – not only that but our family gives us unconditional love, acceptance and belonging – even without polished social skills. It is from this atmosphere of unconditional love that we can step out (and so too can our kids) into other social fields. We should be thankful for the love and acceptance we receive but we shouldn’t take it for granted.
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Our social skills are basically how we interact with others. Any skill that is necessary in a social situation should be first practiced in the sphere of the family relationships. When we see our children struggling with the right social responses we need to look to see if we give them opportunity to practice that social grace in the home within the context of family relationships.
Three keys that are foundational to our children having good social skills are:
1–Other centeredness: Our children need to know that it isn’t about them – but it is about the other person. Our social skills may make our life easier but our motivation needs to be about helping the other person, it needs to be about respect and consideration, about making their life easier.
2–Manners: Good etiquette isn’t taught these days; many people simply don’t know what to do in given social situations. Our children do not need to be of this number – they can learn how to respond the right way (the considerate way) in a variety of social situations. This is what good manners is all about. Good manners is very much connected to the first point of considering others – in that manners reflect our love and consideration of the other person.
3–Serving: Our children need to have an attitude willing to serve others. In a sense serving is the outworking of the first point (being aware of others). If we are considerate of the other person, if we consider them important, even more important than ourselves, then we will be able to do things for them – to help them, to support them, to encourage them. Social skills is about looking out for the other person’s needs.
Social Skills are just good Habits
I’d like to share some specific things we’ve taught our kids as we work on their social skills. I believe that these have established good habits for when the children need to step outside of the home:
- Family first – We have taught our children that if they cannot be friends with each other then they lose the privilege of friends outside the family circle, until they get their priorities and relationships sorted. Peers will come and go, but siblings are there forever! As parents we need to find ways to ensure that we are elevating sibling friendships above peer friendships. One caution – our children will not grow in friendship if they don’t spend time with each other; we need to ensure our children have time to play, relax and learn together.
- Greet each other – We expect our children to greet each other when they wake up and when the return to the home. This is simply good manners but so easily overlooked in a family situation. We expect our children to look at the person they are speaking to (and the other person needs to stop what they are doing too and return the greeting.) This will be the foundation to help your child say hello to other people.
- Thank you and Please – yes, these are magic words indeed! They show our attitude! If we expect these words to be a part of our vocabulary outside the home then the habits need to be established inside the home.
- Forgiveness – The Bible says, let not the sun go down on your wrath – meaning don’t go to bed while angry with someone you love. It is sound advice! And though it is often used in marital situations, I think it is the groundwork for any relationship – get things fixed quickly. Quick forgiveness also helps with the tendency to hold grudges or be offended. We need to teach our child not to take offense quickly.
- Speak up – we don’t let our children whisper in public. They excuse themselves as they interrupt a conversation, and speak clearly. If they need privacy they ask if we could be excused to another room to talk to them. This is teaching them an appropriateness and awareness of other people in conversation. We have also given a lot of instruction in the art of conversation – mainly, that they are to listen more than they talk. To help them we created the 50-50 rule, or for those kids more prone to talking (and not listening) we’ve made it the 80-20 rule.
- Don’t discriminate based on age – We have encouraged our children to interact with people of all ages – young and old. When we have a family come over with younger children, our children aren’t always excused – most times they are expected to be hospitable towards the younger children. They have learnt that they can have a relationship, a friendship with a younger child, or with an older adult. Age doesn’t come into it. They have learnt that relationships are important; they have been exposed to people of all ages, and therefore they relate to people of all ages.
- Sullenness is not allowed – This is a lesson I remember my mother teaching me. We are not to be ruled by our emotions. We have taught our children that their emotions affect other people so if they are having a hard day they can have some time to themselves (but not long enough to wallow!). Often we see things clearly in our toddlers but not so clearly with our teens. Sullenness is one such situation. In a toddler it is seen as a tantrum and it is often in our face and we deal with it. We would put the toddler in his cot till he found a happy face; why don’t we do this with pre-teens? It is the same attitude. There is no reason why a teen needs to be sullen, it is a moral choice that affects others around them. We need to help our teen get self control of their emotions and help them see the affects of their attitude on other people.
Parents need to Model good Social Skills
The most important thing about social skills is that our children need to see these skills modelled. Most times, our children will be as good in social situations as their parents are.
- Our children need to see how we relate to our spouse. All relationships are affected by the confines of social skills including our marriage. Do we relate with kindness, helpfulness, respect, using our best manners?
- Our children need to see how we relate to them – and their siblings. When teaching our children respect and consideration we often forget to teach them that Mum is one of the ‘others’ in their life. But the flipside is equally true – we forget to treat our children as one of the ‘others’ in our life.
- Our children need to see how we relate to our friends, acquaintances and strangers – do we show hospitality, are we sincere (do we live by the same standards whether we are with family or with strangers?), do we strive to make others comfortable?
Often when we look at social skills our mindset is how to help my child get ahead – this will translate to the child as if their social life is for them. It isn’t.
Our social interaction needs to be about the other person and how we help our children understand this key aspect, will affect them for the rest of their life.
How do you see these social skills playing out in your family?
Do Your Teens do the Right Thing on Social Media: When we teach our teens to use social media we need to address heart issues not just right behaviour.
The Negative Effects of Socialisation in a Positive Environment: We can never get away from the negative effects of socialisation even in a positive environment because it is a heart issue.
Socialisation? Is it an Issue Afterall? We need to make sure that our children are growing in socialisation skills – not just swipe the S-word as not relevant.
How to Get your Child’s Heart Right after Negative Influences: Often our children come home with a bad attitude and need time to realign their heart after they have been out on a play date or other activity.