Teaching Social Skills To Children

Teaching social skills to children is an important part of parenting. Parenting tips to help your child "fit in" and develop good children relationships.

A parent writes: Our ten year old daughter can best be described as one of those "out-of-sync" kids. She is better when speaking with adults, is curious about "grown-up issues," expresses her opinion about everything and behaves in ways that her peers find odd. We warn her about the social consequences of these behaviors, but she just doesn't seem to get it. What do you suggest?

Children Friendships: What's Wrong With My Child?

In as much as we treasure our children's unique talents and traits, our pleasure turns to pain when we observe the social fall-out springing from these characteristics. Adults tend to be wooed by a child's verbal skills and uncommon interests, while peers are not similarly impressed. Alternately, peer acceptance is often based upon a narrow range of behaviors, interests, and self-expression. When a child falls outside these social parameters, the results can be peer exclusion, teasing, and bullying.

Social Skills for Children to Improve Children Relationships

Children who lack the "social guidance system" to fit within these peer parameters can be coached in ways to fit in. The following strategies to enhance social skills for children offer the greatest benefit when used by parents, teachers, and other caring adults in the child's life:

Coaching begins by building a dialogue that stirs a child's curiosity and enthusiasm. Explain that she does a wonderful job of relating with adults but could be more successful with kids if she could figure out where she slips up. Invite her to identify some of the traps she falls into and begin to label them for easier identification. Use these terms when discussing her troubles: bulldozing, topic jumping, overstepping, and overlooking. Bulldozing refers to overwhelming a conversation with her own words and ideas such that the other person begins to feel flattened and unimportant. Topic jumping describes how she changes what is being discussed to suit her whim, regardless of how the other person may feel. Overstepping identifies how she ignores social boundaries, commenting on matters that are inappropriate for the context. Overloooking refers to not picking up the clues available to her, such as facial expression, tone of voice, body posture, or implied meanings.

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Suggest to her that success with kids requires greater attention to staying on the proper peer road and not allowing herself to drift into these "off road traps." Challenge her to catch herself when she is guilty of falling into any of these traps, and offer to point them out to her as well. Elaborate upon the concept of peer road and how it differs from the road that is appropriate when she relates to adults. The peer road generally does not include the same depth of discussion she might have with an adult or much older child. Explain how the peer road contains more short clips of discussion, with less opinion and intensive questioning, about events that immediately impact upon the world of kids. The adult road allows for greater knowledge based discussion and exchange of opinions. Suggest that until now she has not developed her navigational skills within the peer road. Emphasize that observing how other kids relate to one another can be tremendously helpful to her "social driving skills."

Help your child anticipate what peer road she will be on, considering the surroundings, people present, time frame, etc. Troubleshoot what "off road' behaviors she needs to watch out for and how to replace them with "on road" skills. "On road" skills include patient listening, asking brief and related questions that don't require too much thought, commenting without judging, complementing, avoiding uncomfortable topics, and using a natural, nonsuperior-sounding tone of voice. Practice with her as she tries out these skills with you in simulated conversations. While playing out the simulations, see if she can identify the off and on road behaviors. Maintain an attitude of playful instruction so that she can also see the value of what you are doing but not be hampered by negative feelings about herself.

It is especially critical that teachers be apprised of your concerns since they are in peer-based environment with your child. Conference with the teacher about these issues and ask them to keep you posted about what they observe. If appropriate, ask teachers to conference with you child so that they can start a similar dialogue. Perhaps the teacher would be willing to meet with your child at some interval to share their observations and offer feedback for continued improvement.

About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.

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APA Reference
Writer, H. (2010, May 10). Teaching Social Skills To Children, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 23 from

Last Updated: July 31, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD