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Children's well-being and happiness is related to their ability to get on with others, and make and keep friends.
Some children are aggressive, becoming involved in fights and arguments. Others are shy and don't participate much. Neither way of behaving helps children form friendships.
Children that display appropriate social behaviours regardless of their personality type generally have a sufficient number of friends to help them maintain positive well-being.
The following five social behaviours are generally considered core social and friendship skills:
1. Eye contact: Looking someone in the eye when you speak is perhaps the most important interpersonal skill to develop in kids. Kids who spend a lot of time in front of screens and little time in front of faces often have difficulty in this area.
2. Friendly behaviours: This includes: good manners, chatting to lots of children, taking an interest in others, knowing how to start up a conversation and how to enter a game.
3. Playing games well: Being a good winner and loser and being able to play fairly are more important social skills than being able to play a game with skill.
4. Tolerance of differences: Tolerant kids tend to collect a variety of friends. Variety is important as it helps your child be more interesting and provides an insulator when bad things happen to them within a group.
5. Standing up for yourself: It is a jungle out there so kids need to be able to stand up for themselves to some degree. The following are some of the skills that generally fit into this category: ignoring someone who gives you a hard time, telling someone to stop annoying you, being assertive and knowing how to ask an adult for help without whining.
As a parent there are three ways you can help children develop social:
1. Immersion: Set up the environment at home so that kids learn these skills. E.g If you want children to learn to be good winners and losers then spend time playing a variety of age-appropriate games. Also make sure kids have plenty of social interactions with a variety of people, including adults, in a variety of settings both at home and outside home.
2. Conscious modelling: Make sure the social behaviours that you want children to develop are on display from parents and other admired adults. E.g. If you want children to develop tolerance then make sure you are friendly and complementary to a range of people acknowledging their quirks and frailties. Kids take their cues from you so model tolerance if this is what you want them to learn.
3. Implicit teaching: Teach children specific skills in a number of ways; including rehearsing behaviours and language, talking through specific situations as they arrive (teachable moments) and just-in-time cueing of specific skills (e.g. remind kids to say thank you before they visit grandma's at Christmas).
Anecdotally, it would seem that kids start school these days with better academic readiness than past generations but with a poorer set of social skills.
I think we underestimate the importance of social competencies in kids in terms of their contribution to kids' well-being and, indirectly, their success at school.
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