The Importance of Social Skills: Raising a Socially Intelligent Child

Group of three preteen age kids wearing jeans and backpacks talking happily while walking down path in parkWhat are social skills?

These are behaviors and other forms of communication necessary to effectively create and maintain relationships. Social skills might include things like initiating conversations, making friends, having good sportsmanship, and handling bullying effectively.

Social skills are one of the most important skills children and adolescents develop, as they often serve as predictors of future success. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Duke University found that youth who scored higher on social skills measurements were four times more likely to graduate from an undergraduate institution. Social skills have also been linked to job success, independence, and emotional well-being. Those with adaptive social skills often demonstrate superior ability to observe, problem solve, and respond in social situations.

Though some may believe undeveloped or lacking social skills indicate that a child may be neurodiverse or on the autism spectrum, this is not always the case. Although most children naturally pick up social cues and behaviors, many children do not. Some kids get caught up in gossip, others may simply be impulsive in the way they respond.

It is not uncommon, however, to find children who have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, autism, ADHD, and other concerns to experience greater challenges with social interaction and relating to others. This is usually the case because symptoms of these conditions are likely to get in the way of their socialization.

The Impact of Underdeveloped Social Skills

Children do not need to be social butterflies. Indeed, each child will have their own personality traits that help inform the way they interact with others. However, positive relationships in life generally help most individuals thrive. Children and teenagers with well-developed social skills are likely to gain confidence in their abilities to approach situations and complete tasks more successfully.

Social skills are one of the most important skills children and adolescents develop, as they often serve as predictors of future success.

It is important for parents to notice and evaluate any difficulties your child faces. Peer rejection, bullying, conflict, social isolation, depression, anger, anxiety, and poor academic performance may all be signs of poor social skills.  Addressing these issues when first noticed will help parents, teachers, and other professionals develop a plan to work with the child to improve their behavior or address social skill challenges. This will typically help the child begin to feel better, too.

When any challenges related to social skills and interaction are not addressed, these issues may persist as a child grows up, and they can become severe enough to have a significant impact on interaction, academic performance, and even the ability to enter the workforce and thrive as an adult.

Can Social Skills Be Taught?

I believe it is absolutely possible for children to learn social skills. Parents, teachers, and mental health professionals can all work, independently and/or collaboratively, to help children develop their social skills.

There are many types of social skills, and it is important to know which areas your child needs help with.

The following are the four types of social skills identified in scholarly literature:

  1. Survival skills: Listening, ignoring, following directions
  2. Interpersonal skills: Sharing, joining a conversation, taking turns talking
  3. Problem-solving skills: Asking for help, deciding what to do/appropriate action to take, recognizing when to apologize
  4. Conflict resolution skills: Dealing with teasing and bullying, losing/being a good sport, handling peer pressure

The teaching of social skills should focus on desirable behaviors. In other words, parents and educators are encouraged to focus on the behaviors they want to see, not the ones they do not want to see. For example, it’s generally a better idea to teach children phrases they can use to start a conversation, rather than telling them something like, “Don’t ignore people when they talk to you!”

It is also important to allow children the opportunity to practice. Social skills are complex and take time to master. Under the right conditions most children will show improvements, but it’s difficult to improve without the chance to practice.

If a child continues to find social skills challenging after parental and classroom assistance and/or is having difficulties with relational conflict or bullying, is impulsive or shy around others, and has difficulties with peer pressure or making social decisions, it may be time to seek professional help.

Social skills are an important aspect of life, so you may want to enroll your child in a social skills group. Groups are a great place to learn social skills because they typically provide direct instruction, modeling, role-playing, team building activities, and positive reinforcement.

There are many types of social skills groups available, and it is important to find the right social skills group for your child or teen. Make sure the group is designed for your child’s age and that it addresses the specific social skills concerns your child has. It is always a good idea to consult with your child’s current therapist (if one is currently working with your child) and the facilitator of the skills group to go over any questions you may have before your child joins the group.

References:

  1. Goldstein, A. P., & McGinnis, E.  (2001).  Skillstreaming the adolescent:  New strategies and perspectives for teaching prosocial skills. Champaign, IL. Research Press.
  2. Laugeson, E. A. (2017). PEERS® for young adults: Social skills training for adults with autism spectrum disorder and other social challenges. NY: Routledge.
  3. Social skills: Promoting positive behavior, academic success, and school safety. (2017, December 20). NASP Center. Retrieved from http://www.naspcenter.org/factsheets/socialskills_fs.html

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  • 5 comments
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  • Jane

    January 5th, 2018 at 11:18 AM

    Helpful advice. Many parents might not notice their kids are struggling until it’s reached the point where change is difficult.

  • Nathan R

    January 5th, 2018 at 11:20 AM

    The broken down list of the four types of social skills is cool. Never thought about social skills like that. As a parent who was never great in the social arena, I feel strongly about not wanting my kid to go through what I did!

  • Alex

    September 14th, 2020 at 10:40 AM

    Social Skills are important as well, Good Article

  • Andrew

    November 15th, 2020 at 10:56 AM

    “Child” “adolescent” – What if the first person to realize things were not right is the child, in about his 40’s?
    First 5 years most critical/important posts *everywhere* – The child was raised in the boonies, nobody remotely even close to visit, and no friends allowed to visit. Period. First memories of dad marrying his high school sweetheart, who hated the child, but mostly civil adult, and nothing compared to the child’s *only* potential source of any “social” interaction. Only male, older or younger, only person, really.. as he was the oldest male child, so ran the group. His group was his two sisters and my sister. (don’t blame her, me being the one *not* in the group, sucked… as..) He (unless it was his mom) threw me into a motel outdoor pool, facinated by the deep blue, but never in anything but a bathtub before. I thrashed like a kid who can’t swim, and never been in a pool before. Well.. not “like” – thrashing for my life, I was about to take a huge breath of water when my fingers clawed the edge, and I pulled up choking and spitting. Evil step-brother managed to be at the far end of the pool by then, and step-mother was 20′ away, walked a few feet closer and gave this creepy smile and said “see? you’re learning how to swim.” If the pool was 2 feet wider, I wonder if she’d pretend she thought I was holding my breath for 5 minutes, or till someone showed up, then try to “rescue” me, brain dead for 4 minutes. Good start. In first 5 memories group. and for the next 5 years, all he did was torment me till I cried, and managed to get everyone to tease me about crying, so he could stop me quickly if the parents were home and heard, he’d get in trouble. But after the beginning, he never did. He played the nice older brother in front of the parents, but teased and tormented me about how worthless and useless and stupid, undeserving of even being alive. Few years back when the child’s dad died, the dad apparently confessed to the child’s (48ish yr old child now) sister that soon after he married his detestable new wife, they had mutually vowed and agreed with each other that they would live, love, and enjoy each other and life with each other. Only critical things like not starving the kids got to the back burner. Nothing else. When they came home together, it’s always – kids .. in the basement, shut the door, be good and be quiet. And they’d go in their bedroom. Step-brother-demon constantly looking for worse, nastier ways to torment.. always torment. Hide and seek.. I count.. can’t find em, called out a bit, but was pretty sure they were going to take off anyway.
    So – NOBODY else to even *try* to talk to, and he never even once ever simply just said “Hi” or anything that wasn’t calculated to be mean, or meaner… if new meaner didn’t work, he always knew that telling me how stupid, useless, waste of life I was. There just wasn’t anyone else. And so it was like the first 5 years of my memories might as well have been solitary confinement with him. Incessant, torment, make fun of…anything ever close to nice? NO Not Once!
    The child is 53, and is a good programmer, including AI. I plan to write an AI (racing against hundreds of billionaires and more) and if I can write it first, I can make the whole world better than most people would believe. (why do you think countries (China, N. Korea) and companies and people by the hundreds are each spending billions to write the exact same program.) The race to write a true AI is different than anything in history. There will be no 2nd place. Winner takes all, in a very scary way if the winner doesn’t want to use it to make the world incredibly better? How many Billionaires do you know that have that as a goal? When I turned about 50, someone doing podcasts who’s brilliant and interviews brilliant possibly nudged my brain. I believe I can do it. Just have serious doubts about the “First” thing. When I realized I had a shot, even a really tiny chance, but a tiny chance to make the Planet better(!) Depression eased significantly, and suicidal was completely dropped from the options list.
    But only advice for Parents.. for the “Children” and a bit about adolescents.. I’ll say one thing… learning what the social thing is when you’re smart enough to know what’s going on gives you a very different perspective. People lie and play games (head games, innuendo, even sometimes mean ones) I don’t want to play games, and I want to be honest. Those two things alone can make it *very* difficult to “socialize”
    Sorry to blab.. wish me luck on the AI, you literally wouldn’t believe until you see it.
    Andrew

  • Eve

    September 21st, 2021 at 11:01 AM

    My daughter isn’t super social, so I want to give her tools to help her succeed. I like what you said about developing intrapersonal skills. I think an etiquette class would help. politesocietyschool

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