Updated: Jul 31, 2019
When I was a child, people regularly told my mother that my sister and I had such nice manners. My mother’s response was "thank you", but really we just had nice company manners. In other words, we had one set of behaviors for the public and a less pleasant set for home. We had a skill – knowing how to adjust our behaviors to match the environment.
When you go to the library, there is an accepted way to conduct yourself. And within the library itself, you can be more active and loud in the children’s section than in the reference section.
When you watch a movie in a movie theater, you expect that the audience will be as quiet as you are. When you whisper to your neighbor, you are probably annoyed if others in the theater use their normal speaking voice. However, if you are at home, you can feel comfortable to yell at the TV screen.
These social skills are taught to children at an early age. Parents often remind their children of appropriate behavior before they go to the library or the movie. Parents may remind their children to say “please” and “thank you” before they go to play at a friend’s house.
Some children need more specific lessons than others. Children with neurological, emotional or developmental disorders may not inherently know how to interact with others appropriately. This, in turn, may affect their ability to create all the meaningful relationships that they may desire. In order to help these children build the valuable relationships that are so important to their self-esteem and sense of belonging, it is important to teach them social skills.
As parents and educators, we need to provide as many opportunities to work on social skills as possible. Many of us may have children who will happily entertain themselves for hours by retreating into the world of electronics. This is antisocial in nature and rarely provides any growth opportunity. In order to compete with the lure of the glowing screen, consider activities that focus on your child’s interest. For example, find a sport that they enjoy and have them join the team. Your child could learn sportsmanship as well as gain practice in waiting their turn, following directions and working with others.
Social skills, just like reading, multiplication or riding a bike need instruction and practice. Some people are naturally more proficient. Some people take years to get their training wheels taken off. As we need to interact with others to be successful in this world, social skills need to be given as much effort as any other skill you deem important in your child’s life.