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BY Diane

5 Important Social Skills To Learn For The New Schoolyear

This is a very busy time for our children, both academically and socially.  Students are learning to:

  • Participate as members of their new classes
  • Follow new schedules
  • Learn new names
  • Predict how others will act
  • Figure out how their teachers will respond
  • Follow directions, and
  • Enjoy the company and presence of others.

Children will find that they are accountable for their behavior, and must fit into the structure provided by their schools.  All children need to feel appreciated and respected, to be a part of the group and to contribute meaningfully.

Learning Through Social Skills

Our kids are learning how to cooperate and collaborate throughout the day using social skills.  They learn what works, and what does not.  Remembering what works helps them to repeat the positive, and to use that strategy again.

The First Teachers

Social ThinkingSocial learning helps them to bond with us as parents, because we are their first teachers.  This paves the way for more advanced relationships and an understanding of abstract social concepts that grow with experience and maturity, according to Michelle Garcia Winner, author of “Social Thinking.”

As your child travels through the routine and not so routine (fire drills, assemblies, guest teachers…) at school, consider these early social skills and how children develop into social engineers.

1.  Listening to others

Children need to look at others, and listen for comprehension.  Using the phrase “listen with your eyes and brain” may help them to consider both the verbal messages and the nonverbal messages sent their way.  Teachers may remind them that good listening includes quiet hands, quiet feet, zipped lips, and eyes on the speaker.  Quiet, raised hands help the speaker pick a person who has a question.

2.  Initiating communication

Not only is it important to smile and say “hi,” starting a conversation involves good timing, a receptive audience, something in which others would be interested, and a willingness to let others add to, change, or repair. Staying on topic, or changing to another topic, requires flexibility to meet other’s needs, as well as your own.

A true dialogue requires a give and take during conversation.  Conversation requires a voice that is loud enough, and eye contact that means, “I’m talking to you” and “I’m listening to you.”

3.  Abstracting and inferencing

We often don’t say what we mean, and kids learn to “read between the lines.” Understanding idioms, predicting outcomes, and drawing conclusions before someone states them are skills our children develop as their language expands.

Reading body language and facial expression is very important. So when a teacher says to “check your work,” kids learn to re-read their work, not put check marks next to it. Following directions is very important at school. Learning what a teacher expects and how the classroom works is part of the social contract of behavior.

4. Understanding the perspective of others

As children grow and learn that others have thoughts, and are thinking about them, they become more aware of other people and how they fit in to a group. Learning that people see things differently because of their experiences allows children to start to understand different points of view.

This is the time that children start to realize that their actions and words affect others.  People want to feel safe and good about themselves.  If they perceive some type of unpredictable behavior (physical or emotional) they will avoid the danger and leave.  If people perceive safety through predictability (physical or emotional), they will stay and continue the interaction.

Being polite contributes to the feelings of being predictable. Keeping your hands and feet in your own space helps others feel comfortable. Understanding how others feel helps to develop empathy, and shared emotion. Friends often share perspective.

5.  Humor and human relatedness

Kids need humor in their lives, and sharing a silly face, a joke or a funny story is a way to connect with others.  Being able to laugh together is a communal experience, which is sharing a basic understanding of how much we have in common.  We all want to fit in and be appreciated. SMILING is the best invitation for friendship! So the next time your child has a knock-knock joke for you, sit down, listen and laugh.  You are building social skills!

Children are involved in academics just 4% of their time. The other 96% of their time is spent in social relationships. They can’t compensate for social skill development; they need to practice and practice to get it right. As parents we can help them learn, by showing them (modeling) and teaching them (practicing).  Don’t forget smiling and laughing, because that is a social skill that will follow them to school, too.

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Written on September 19, 2012 by:

Diane Nancarrow is a speech-language pathologist and director of adolescent programs at the Kafuman Children's Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-Motor & Social Connections, Inc. in West Bloomfield, MI. Her experience includes auditory processing disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, developmental speech and language disorders, LINKS to Language, Picture Exchange Communication Systems, extensive experience in neurological communication disorders, adolescent language disorders, language to literacy, Fast ForWord® Family of Language Training Programs, The Kaufman Speech to Language Protocol, use of technology to facilitate learning, and application of ABA/ therapy techniques. She also facilitates the social language skills groups at the KCC.

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