Children are faced with a variety of unique challenges at every point in their day. They are asked to navigate school, social interactions, and family dynamics. As parents, we are constantly looking for ways to help our young people be more effective in communicating needs, interacting with others, and fulfilling obligations. Our goal is to help our young people effectively navigate all of these demands and build a healthy positive life for themselves.
There are a variety of specific skills that are developed at an early age that will help a young person be more successful in their interactions with others. These include:
- listening to others
- following the rules
- ignoring distractions
- asking for help
- taking turns
- getting along with others
- staying calm
- developing responsibility for your behavior
- doing caring things for others
Each of the skills identified contain a variety of smaller skills that make up these overarching principles. However, all of the skills listed revolve around the understanding that people are important. We are all interconnected and rely on a network of social relationships for support and to thrive as we move forward in life.
Parents are the best supports for children in practicing the skills listed above and in helping a young person develop the interpersonal skills needed for success. So much can be learned and practiced just by play. Turning off the electronics and engaging our child in activities like board games, imaginative play, and art experiences can offer opportunities to practice the skills listed above in a fun and supportive environment. For example, playing UNO becomes a moment to practice taking turns, maintaining focus, and tolerating frustration. Asking our children to put together a play is an exercise in listening to different ideas, compromising, and turn taking.
We can help our children by modeling and coaching. This can involve preparation and discussion prior to a social event. Problem solve and role play situations that may come up before the experience happens. Talk about the child thinks will happen as well as what could happen. Use examples and explore with your child how the other person might feel. Discuss different solutions to problems and weigh the potential consequences. Movies, books, and real life examples can be great to open a discussion about specific skills that may need improvement. Using examples allows for a child to explore the behavior and the reactions of others (positive or negative) from an objective point of view.
When processing challenging interpersonal moments, use it as an opportunity for children to hear interpretations of events from a resilient, constructive approach. “Lauren wouldn’t play with me at recess, she’s being so mean” can be a moment to validate your child’s feelings while still offering up a more optimistic view of others. As parents, we can respond by acknowledging the hurt feelings and offering a different perspective, “maybe she didn’t like the game that you wanted to play.” This presents a more resilient attitude towards social setbacks and allows for the belief that social situations can be improved with effort and positive behaviors.
Lastly, but most importantly, children want to do well. Catch them when they are using a skill. Help them understand what they did well, how it was helpful, and how proud of them you are. We all benefit from feeling successful!
Written by: Heather Baker,LPPC-S