So your child is funny, smart, and comfortable socializing with adults but when it comes to making friends their age, they become shy and lose confidence. Or maybe they struggle to read social cues making socializing a challenge for them. You’ve been trying to encourage them but it’s been tough and nothing seems to be working.
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one to experience this and it’s not a lost cause; there are many ways you can help them improve the social skills they need to mix with other kids and make new friends.
What are social skills?
Social skills, also known as soft skills are important because they help us communicate with other people in verbal, nonverbal, written, and visual ways. Verbal communication relates to the spoken language while nonverbal relates to our facial expressions, body language, and gestures.
Why social skills are important?
Many people underestimate the importance of having good social skills. After all, what’s the big deal if we’re a little awkward around others? The truth is, soft skills are essential for our kids’ success in life.
Kids who struggle with this often have difficulty making friends, holding conversations, and positively interacting with others but building those skills will help them navigate tricky social situations as they get older.
Here’s an example of the critical skills they need:
Active listening is our ability to listen attentively and respond effectively. Kids who can focus on what a teacher is saying, for example, can take note of important points, are more likely to do well in class, outside of the school environment, and build better relationships.
Cooperation and Collaboration
This is our ability to work alongside others to accomplish a task or activity, whether that’s doing an art project a school or playing a game together at birthday parties.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, it’s often described as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Teach empathy to help them feel more connected to their peers and build deeper relationships which in turn offers creates a feeling of support and positive reinforcement. Kids who have close friendships are also more likely to do well in school.
Why do some kids struggle
There are two main reasons why some kids struggle with people skills
- They are shy and lack the confidence to jump into a conversation and interact because they don’t want to be rejected.
- They struggle to read social cues
Whatever the reason your child struggles, whether it’s because of a medical condition like autism or ADHD, or because they are introverted and shy, just know that social development is something learned and it will take a bit of patience and time.
The good news is, most of the time our interpersonal skills and self-esteem are established when we are young so a child’s social interactions, their ability to pick up on non-verbal cues, and their ability to communicate in a healthy way with good manners are learned in those early years.
As we start to reach adulthood, it is more difficult to pick up new skills but younger children learn very quickly, and as your child grows, with practice they will develop strong social skills.
8 ways to teach kids who struggle to read social cues
1. Using Flashcards and Reading Body Language
To develop their emotional skills you can use a visual aid like our ‘My Feelings & Emotions Cards’ to help them identify and remember what different emotions and expressions mean. You can also make it into a game where you recreate some of those emotions and they have ti guess from the flashcards how you are feeling. This will help your child identify how others are feeling by using a memorable visual cue.
Pro tip – Take it one step futher by discussing how they can respond in differnt scenarios based on how people feel which will help them learn to show more empathy.
You can check out our feelings and emotions flashcards here
2. Think it or Say it
Kids who struggle to read social cues sometimes say things that are inappropriate for certain social situations. A great way to teach them to deal with this is by playing a game of ‘think it or say it’ – Here you come up with different scenarios and you say ‘think it or say it’. This will help them to understand not everything they think should be said out loud.
3. Respecting Personal Space
Use hula hoops in the house so that kids who don’t understand personal space know how sometimes kids don’t like it when you come into their ‘bubble’ and so hula hoops will give them an idea of how close they can get to people without them feeling uncomfortable.
4. Practice starting and holding conversations
Starting and holding a conversation can be difficult for socially awkward or shy kids, especially if they don’t know what to say. Help your child practice conversing by coming up with some topics he or she can talk about with others.
A great way for them to learn this is to take a ball, ask them a question and have them answer it, then throw the ball to them and have them do the same. This will teach them the flow of a conversation going back and forth, show them how to be engaged with someone else and practice the art of active listening and then responding.
5. Encourage your child to make eye contact
One of the most important social skills is making appropriate eye contact. When we make eye contact with others, it shows that we are interested in what they have to say and that we are paying attention. Help your child practice making eye contact by asking him or her to look at you while you are talking.
6. Reward your child for using good social skills
When you see your child socializing well, praise him or her! This will encourage your child to continue using the skills.
Pro tip – Create a reward chart where you add stickers when they exercise their social skills, and after a certain amount of stickers they get a treat. This will encourage them to practice improving their social skills more by using positive reinforcement.
7. Seek professional help
If you’ve tried all of these tips and your child is still struggling, it may be time to seek professional help. A therapist can help them to work on their social competence, enroll them in a social skills group where they can practice in a safe environment, or develop a plan to overcome their shyness.
8. Have patience
Soft skills are a learned ability so it can take time but this is a normal part of social development and with patience and perseverance you will see your child develop.
8 ways for shy kids to improve their soft skills
1. Join a club or group that shares their interest.
This can be anything from going to the park and playing with other kids to joining a club or sport. When they’re doing something they love, it will be easier for them to open up and talk to others.
Pro tip – If they are going somewhere that has a lot of people, get there early and introduce them to other kids… this will allow them to begin interacting in a less intimidating environment and become comfortable before kids begin to arrive
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
Encourage kids to start small by saying things like “hi” or “thank you”. Once they get used to talking to people, they can gradually start practicing longer conversations. When they’re feeling confident, encourage them to invite a friend over or go on playdates.
3. Role Play
This can be done at home with a parent or sibling. Help them to come up with different social scenarios, such as meeting someone new or going to a birthday party. Then, have them practice what they would say and how they would act in each situation. This will help them to be prepared for real-life social situations.
Pro tip – Use puppets or teddies to make it more fun as if they are part of these real-life situations.
4. Be a good role model
As a parent, you can set a good example by being friendly and interacting with other people yourself. When you’re out in public, talk to the cashier, strike up a conversation with someone in line, or say hi to your neighbor. This will show your child that it’s okay.
5. Play games that require social interaction
Playing games is a great way to bond with your child and help them grow their social skills. Games that require taking turns, sharing, and communication are perfect for this. Monopoly, Jenga, and charades are all great options.
6. Encourage them to talk about their feelings
When kids bottle up their emotions, it can lead to social anxiety, helping them to talk about their feelings will improve the emotional skills they need to interact more easily with other kids. So, it’s important to encourage your child to talk about their feelings. This can be done by asking them how their day was or what made them happy or sad.
7. Seek professional help
If you’ve tried all of these tips and your child is still struggling, it may be time to seek professional help. A therapist can help them to work on their social skills and develop a plan to overcome their shyness.
8. Have patience
Social skills take time to learn, but they are learned skills so it can take time but your child can learn. So, it’s important to have patience with your child. Keep at it and they will eventually get there!
What not to do
There are a few things you should avoid doing when it comes to social skills development. Here are four of them:
1. Don’t force your child into social situations
If your child is shy or doesn’t like being around other people, don’t force him or her into social situations. This will only make the situation worse and your child will likely end up feeling uncomfortable and anxious.
2. Don’t compare your child to others
Every child is different and develops at his or her own pace and they will find greater success at making and keeping friends if they don’t constantly compare themselves to their peers.
3. Don’t criticize your child
If your child makes a mistake, don’t criticize him or her. This will only make your child feel worse and hinder his or her ability to improve.
4. Don’t give up
Even basic social skills take time to develop, so don’t give up if your child is struggling. Keep at it and he or she will eventually get there!
It’s important to have patience when it comes to your child’s social skills. Every child develops at their own pace, so don’t compare them to other children. If your child is struggling, don’t give up – keep trying different techniques until you find what works for them. And most importantly, always praise your child when they socialize as this will only encourage them to do it more.
Has something worked for you or did you find this article helpfu? Let us know in the comment section below.
Q: What is the definition of social skills?
A: Social skills are the skills we use to interact with people. This can include verbal and nonverbal communication skills, such as body language, facial expressions, and eye contact. It also includes things like turn-taking, sharing, and listening.
Q: Why are social skills important?
A: Teaching social skills is important for children because it will help them interact with others. They allow us to build relationships and communicate our needs and practice conflict resolution.
Q: Why do some kids struggle to relate to others?
A: Some kids struggle with social skills for a variety of reasons. This can include things like being shy, having a disability, or being on the autism spectrum.
Q: What are some ways kids can improve their communication?
A: There are a few ways kids can improve their communication. This can include things like attending a social skills group, playing social games, or role-playing different situations.
Q: What should you not do when it comes to social skills?
A: There are a few things you should avoid doing when it comes to helping your child learn to socialize better. This can include things like forcing your child into social situations, comparing your child to others, or giving up too easily.
Want to know about how our ‘My Feelings & Emotions Flashcards’ have helped other kids communicate their feelings, identify emotions and develop their verbal and non-verbal skills?
Check out our range here:
My Feelings & Emotions Flashcards
- 27, plastic coated, double sided cards
- Includes: 1 bungee and 1 ring
- Size: 9cm x 6cm
- 100% money back guarantee