It is for many children, an exciting time of self-discovery. However, for others, social skills may be harder to develop than any academic subject.
There are many ways that we as parents can prepare our children for the social interactions they will encounter once at school.
Do as I say – and as I do
It may appear that our children don’t listen to us – however, they hear more than we realise and they see everything. The way we treat others serves as a role model for our children and reinforces the other cues and tips that we share with our children.
If you are sociable yourself, chances are your children will find it easier to interact with others. If manners are important in your home – it won’t come as a surprise to your child when they’re expected to display good manners out of the home environment.
Parents who are social themselves serve as positive reinforcement for their children. Children may be able to mimic their parents interactions with others when they attempt to make friends with other children, or when learning to cooperate and share with their peers.
Explaining to children why we act the way we do as adults helps them to understand social behaviour, which then helps them replicate it for themselves. Saying things like: “Ask nicely for things, rather than hurt your brother” or “Always say thank you when someone holds the door open for you” really helps to put social skills into context and help children understand.
It’s all a game
Of course, children all develop at their own pace but if you sense that your child could do with some extra support in developing their social skills, here are a number of simple games you can try:
- Have a staring contest: eye contact is really important, it’s how we judge non-verbal cues and conveys the emotion behind the words we hear. A staring competition is a quick and easy – not to mention very enjoyable – way of showing your child how to look others in the eye without feeling challenged or threatened. Bet you they’re better at it than you are!
- Play emotion charades: it’s important that our children understand how to process the emotions people display. Rather than act out books or movie titles, try and convey emotions – happy, sad, angry, embarrassed; helping your child to appreciate how people are feeling, helps them develop empathy and respect for others.
- Stick to the point: often it’s hard for children to keep to one topic. Holding a conversation is quite a skill and one that will set them in good stead for the future. A conversation is where two people talk about something, with each person building on what the other has said. The topic game is a great way of helping children stick to this. You pick a topic, and work through the alphabet with each player saying a different word relating to that topic e.g. fruit would be: A – apple; B – banana; C – carrot; countries would be A – America; B – Belgium; C – Canada; and so on…
If you have concerns…
However, as a parent, you know your child better than anyone and, if you have any concerns, there are three areas of difficulty that have been identified within the autism spectrum:
· difficulty with social relationships, for example appearing aloof and indifferent to other people
· difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication, for example not fully understanding the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice
· difficulty in the development of interpersonal play and imagination, for example having a limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied and pursued rigidly and repetitively
More information about autism >
As with all other development milestones, we must give our children the time and space to develop, at their own pace. Social skills is something that we all have a role in shaping, but ultimately it is up to our children to find their own way, with our love, support and guidance.