Social skills. Social intelligence. Emotional intelligence. As a parent you can get lost in buzz words that relate to your kids' relationships with others. Whatever you call it, parents just want to help their child make friends and have a positive social life. How do you do that without dictating your child's social life? Jenna Glover, PhD, a child psychologist at Children's Hospital Colorado, offers some advice.
Developing positive relationships
Parents should find out who is in their child's peer group. You can get a good idea about the other kids by connecting with their families. Host something to get everyone together, like a back-to-school BBQ or a soccer team party.
Make sure your child knows that building and maintaining friendships is a skill. The more they practice developing social skills, the better they will be. Talk to your children about the importance of introducing yourself, showing interest in others, finding common ground and being inclusive.
Finally, your child's social skills start at home. You learn how to share at home. You learn how to talk to others at home. Do your children have positive relationships with their siblings? Do they have positive relationships with you? That's where it all begins.
How to prevent your child from becoming a bully
Unfortunately, kindness is not always a child's instinctual reaction. Sometimes aggression comes more naturally. If your child has been the aggressor towards another child, make sure to link the behavior to the appropriate consequence.
"For example, if the bullying was online, a child should lose access to electronics or social media for an appropriate period of time," says Natalie Walders Abramson, PhD, a pediatric psychologist at Children's Colorado. You should also attempt to connect with your child's school and fellow parents, keep a close eye on your child's interactions and set a positive example.
Learn more about how to prevent your child from becoming a bully.
How to help when your child is bullied
Bullying can come in multiple forms, so be aware of social, verbal and physical issues your child might be dealing with. Being attentive in three main areas can help prevent your child from being bullied or help mitigate it quickly:
- Let your child know they can talk to you about anything. Focus mostly on listening and hear them out no matter how big or small their issue seems.
- Get to know your child's peers and their parents. This will give you lines of communication into their circle of friends and allow you to track potential issues.
- Communicate regularly with school personnel. Stay in touch with teachers, counselors, coaches and anyone else who can tell you how your child is doing socially and emotionally.
Learn more about identifying bullying and how to help if your child is being bullied.
Teaching empathy to children
Empathy is a skill you have to help your children develop. Kids can start to feel empathy as early as 3 or 4, but they won't fully develop the skill until late adolescence or early adulthood. You can start by modeling empathy yourself and helping your child identify emotions in themselves and others. Volunteering, spending time around pets and discussing conflict are among the tactics that can build empathy and help your child develop social skills.
Technology and cyberbullying
Growing up with technology and cyberbullying are increasingly important topics unto themselves. Ever-present technology and social media have added another dimension to parenting and social skill development. The first thing you can do is recognize the reality that your kids are growing up at least partially online. While things that happen on social media might seem trivial to you, your child likely views that differently. Acknowledge that their online interactions matter and try to help your child develop social skills online. Many of the same principles apply.
You should also set limits on when and where they can be on their devices. Monitor what they are doing online. Create open and honest lines of communication about what they are interested in and concerns they might have.