7 Most Important Social Skills for Kids
Good social skills allow kids to enjoy better peer relationships. But the benefits of robust social skills reach far beyond social acceptance. Children with better social skills are likely to reap immediate benefits. For example, one study found that good social skills may reduce stress in children who are in daycare settings.1
Social skills are a set of skills that need ongoing refinement as your kids get older. They aren’t something your child either has or doesn’t have. These are skills that can be learned and strengthened with effort and practice.
Social skills give kids a wide range of benefits. They are linked to greater success in school and better relationships with peers.
- Better educational and career outcomes: Researchers from Penn State and Duke University found that children who were better at sharing, listening, cooperating, and following the rules at age five were more likely to go to college. They also were more likely to be employed full-time by age 25.
- Better success in life: Good social skills also can help kids have a brighter future. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, a child’s social and emotional skills in kindergarten might be the biggest predictor of success in adulthood.2
- Stronger friendships: Kids who have strong social skills and can get along well with peers are likely to make friends more easily. In fact, a study published in the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences indicates that childhood friendships are good for kids’ mental health.3
So what are the potential consequences of poor social skills? Children who lacked social and emotional skills were more likely to have:
- Dependence on public assistance
- Legal trouble
- Substance abuse issues
- Relationship issues
Not having the social skills to interact with others also likely compounds that stress. For instance, being away from family places stress on children. When they are unable to communicate effectively with others, it only gets worse.
The good news is that social skills can be taught. It’s never too soon to start showing kids how to get along with others. And it’s never too late to sharpen their skills either. Start with the most basic social skills first and keep sharpening your child’s skills over time.
A willingness to share a snack or share a toy can go a long way to helping kids make and keep friends. Kids might be reluctant to share half of their cookie with a friend because it means they’ll have less to enjoy. Those same children might readily share a toy that they’re no longer interested in playing with. By age seven or eight, kids become more concerned with fairness and are more willing to share.
Cooperating means working together to achieve a common goal. Kids who cooperate are respectful when others make requests. They also contribute, participate, and help out.
Good cooperation skills are essential for successfully getting along within a community. Your child will need to cooperate with classmates on the playground as well as in the classroom
Listening isn’t just about staying quiet—it means really absorbing what someone else is saying. Listening also is a critical component of healthy communication. After all, much of the learning in school depends on a child’s ability to listen to what the teacher is saying.
Kids who struggle to follow directions are likely to experience a variety of consequences. From having to redo their homework assignments to getting in trouble for misbehavior, not following directions can be a big problem.
Whether you instruct your children to clean their rooms or you’re telling them how to improve their soccer skills, it’s important for kids to be able to take direction—and follow instructions.
- Don’t give a young child more than one direction at a time. Instead of saying, “Pick up your shoes, put your books away, and wash your hands,” wait until the shoes are picked up before giving the next command.
- Don’t phrase your directions as a question. Asking, “Would you please pick up your toys now?” implies that your kids have the option to say no. Once you’ve given your children directions, ask them to repeat back what you said. Ask, “What are you supposed to do now?” and wait for them to explain what they heard you say.
- Don’t forget that mistakes are normal. It’s normal for young kids to get distracted, behave impulsively, or forget what they’re supposed to do. View each mistake as an opportunity to help them sharpen their skills.
Respecting Personal Space
Some kids are close talkers. Others crawl into the laps of acquaintances without any idea that the other individual feels uncomfortable. It’s important to teach kids how to respect other people’s personal space.
Create household rules that encourage kids to respect other people’s personal space. “Knock on closed doors,” and “Keep your hands to yourself,” are just a few examples.
Making Eye Contact
Good eye contact is an important part of communication. Some kids struggle to look at the person they’re speaking to. Whether your child is shy and prefers to stare at the floor or simply won’t look up when engrossed in another activity, emphasize the importance of good eye contact.
Saying please and thank you and using good table manners can go a long way toward helping your child gain attention for the right reasons. Teachers, other parents, and other kids will respect a well-mannered child.
Of course, teaching manners can feel like an uphill battle sometimes. From burping loudly at the table to acting ungratefully, all kids will let their manners go out the window sometimes. It is important, however, for kids to know how to be polite and respectful—especially when they’re in other people’s homes or at school.