By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington
While homework and learning difficulties cause worry for many parents, a child’s struggles “on the playground” can be just as concerning. Some children have no problem getting along with their peers and seem comfortable in new situations or leadership roles, but for others, navigating the social scene is not so easy.
Why are social skills so important for a young student and what can parents do to help their child improve his or her communication and socialization skills? Here are some answers to parents’ commonly asked questions:
· Why is it important for my child’s education to nurture his or her social growth? Research indicates that children capable of establishing and maintaining positive relationships, expressing and controlling their feelings and interacting with others do better academically – school success requires social skills as well as academic skills. Conversely, students who have difficulty communicating may be misunderstood and struggle to make friends, which can lead to peer rejection, rebellion and an unhappy child overall. Long-term, social skills are an important part of everyday life and learning.
· How can I promote social interaction at home? From an early age, teach your child to verbalize his or her emotions instead of internalizing them or acting out in frustration. As your child establishes friendships with classmates, coach him or her on effective problem-solving skills, as these become increasingly important as children near adolescence and friendship conflicts arise more often (and friendships change). Teach your child to take ownership of his or her behavior, which promotes responsibility and respect for others. Finally, it is important to honor your child for his or her unique traits and abilities, which will boost his or her self-esteem. A confident child is less afraid of the unfamiliar and often naturally learns to manage social situations successfully.
· What should I do to help my child establish new friendships? Be a good role model by being friendly with the people you encounter each day. Introduce yourself to the new neighbor, express genuine interest in others and broach new situations with confidence. Try role-playing with your child, too. Before a new school year, have your child rehearse his or her introduction to new classmates. Show him or her how to get to know people by asking them questions and reciprocating others’ interest.
· My child has a temper, which seems to push away friends. What’s going on? Some children have difficulty communicating their feelings and get angry with people easily, even over small things. First, encourage your child to recognize when he or she needs to walk away from a tense situation and find a calming activity. Teach your child several effective conflict-resolution strategies. And remember that temper-prone or disrespectful children may lack empathy for others. Help your child learn to think about situations from perspectives that are different than his or her own.
Building social skills takes practice, so take advantage of all opportunities to show your child how to communicate and connect with his or her peers. Doing so will help your child be a happier student and person.
Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has been helping children succeed in school for more than 30 years. For more information about Huntington, call 1-800 CAN LEARN.
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