Think of these social skills as little golden keys to the future for your kids: They can get your kids into a lot of places! Bummer is, they can shut some doors, too, when our kids don’t master them. (Disclaimer: Writing this post does not declare my children in mastery of said skills.)
Social skills are key because manners are a form of loving others well. They lubricate the potential friction of social interactions.
(Some of them I’ve broken down because of my own experience with my son’s ADHD, such as giving him “scripts” for social situations; see #1. I won’t speak directly to special needs in this post. But some of these ideas might work to put tangible steps onto often intangible skills.)
As you can tell from other posts, I believe a big part of teaching kids is helping them to “get the bug” for the subject: to associate it with pleasure and reward. I’ve read, What we learn in pleasure, we never forget. So lather on the rewards and praise for learning these critical skills. Help kids to connect these skills with great memories, not shame or demand. And remember the critical steps for teaching your kid to do just about anything on their own:
1. Do it for him, modeling the behavior.
2. Do it with him (two mini-steps here: first he assists you, then you assist him).
3. Watch him do it, supervised.
4. Have him do it. (Might need to check back.)
Hope these help! And I’d love it if you’d chime in below, helping us all with what works for you as you teach your kids social skills!
- Greeting. Tips for kids:
- Pretend an imaginary rope is traveling up your back, up through your head to the ceiling, helping you to look the adult in the eye.
- Hold the person’s hand like it’s a baseball you don’t want to drop—firmly, but not a death grip.
- Know the six magic words: “Hi! I’m ___. How are you?” (You can leave out your name if you already know the person.) Most adults will be able to take it from here!
- Kids might want to have one good question in their mental reserves for an adult, like “What have you been up to lately?”
- Phone skills. Here again, a script can be helpful. Practice several times, and praise your kids when they follow through in real life.
- Answering: “Hello, this is ___.” Or, “Hello; this is the [family name]. ___ speaking.”
- Calling: “Hi, this is __. I’m calling about ___. May I speak to ___?”
- My nine-year-old daughter was completely unwilling to learn phone skills (“Can’t I just text?”)…until she started her own business (more on that later!). What might motivate your child?
- Around the table with a guest.
- No electronic devices, phones included. Don’t let electronic versions of relationships interfere with the ones in front of you.
- Brief your kids beforehand. Help them to have a few (open-ended) questions for the guest prepared. (Perhaps a larger hunk of brownies for dessert for winner of the best question would be motivating.) You might suggest a few things going on in your guest’s life that they could ask about. And check out these 8 Ideas to Raise Good Conversationalists!
- Ask kids to listen—without interrupting. Coach them to silently count to two before chiming in with their own two cents, to show we care more about the other person than our own thoughts . At a meal before the guest, practice asking a question based on someone’s answer, or related to the topic. (When my kids interrupt me, I occasionally have them wait two minutes and try again. I admit to being a bit of an interruption Nazi.)
- Before a guest comes, have meals when you practice restaurant-level manners. (We have to do this with our kids before we come to the U.S., because in Africa, we eat outside, spread on the porch, and that’s just about as mannerly with my three boys as it sounds.) My family used to charge a nickel for poor manners…and a quarter for blatant ones (“what’s that smell?!”).
- Conflict Resolution. Training kids in conflict has transformed our home! I feel like all I ever needed to know about helping kids through conflict I learned from The Young Peacemaker (you can find an overview here). A few keys:
- In the middle of a conflict, I ask my kids what their choices are. Answer in a nutshell? To work it out/talk about it, overlook, or get help. Unhealthy choices: To attack (including with words or gossip)—which is often what my kids have chosen—or run away.
- I try to have kids work out the conflict more than relying on me as referee. (Younger kids may need more training first.) I have mine start with admitting the “log in their eye”—their own contribution to the conflict, and asking forgiveness for it.
- When kids get into “Well, HE did THAT!” pattern, we continue to go back to the biblical idea of returning a blessing for an insult (from 1 Peter 3:9).
- Self-control is obviously a key social skill here, and can be picked up on other areas apart from conflict (see this post on 8 Strategies for Tackling Kid Drama [without Squashing Kids’ Emotions]). Start with a general rule of no yelling; make them whisper if you need to! Controlling your voice can be a great start for controlling your heart. (Need ideas on Mom anger, like I do?! Start here.)
- A lot of verses provide great guidance for kids to keep in their back pocket, so to speak—like James 1:19, Romans 12:18, Ephesians 4:29, Proverbs 19:11, Matthew 12:34, and James 4:1. (…And here are 6 ways for yourself to pray when you actually want to tear your hair out.)
- Let “I’m sorry”, confession, and forgiveness be a frequent thread in the fabric of your home.
- Remind your kids that it’s us against the problem, not us against each other.
- Help kids understand the underlying interests of a conflict. You can define the issue with a question: What should my bedtime be? But the interests are what each person really wants. Mom and Dad want some time alone, and are feeling disrespected by the way their son is confronting the issue; oldest son wants some alone time away from siblings. By clarifying not just the issue (apart from all the emotion), but the interests, compromise might not be as far away as you’d think.
- Conflict is an opportunity! They can honor God, love others, and grow to be like Christ. Those are our key goals in conflict.
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