Good social skills are just as important for a child or young person’s overall well-being as their physical health and mental well-being.
From an early age, children seek interaction with others. Babies smile and babble at their parents hoping for a positive response and, by the age of two, toddlers are usually keen to interact with other little ones.
By the time they reach three or four, most children will spend a lot of their time playing with their first proper friends. Playing not only encourages children to be active – especially if they are playing outdoors – but develops their confidence and their ability to mix.
Children with poorly developed social skills often miss out on the opportunities that come their way because they lack confidence in their own abilities. A confident child is likely to acknowledge their fears and do it anyway. Let your child know it’s alright not to succeed every time, and encourage them to take risks (within safe limits). Taking action will boost their confidence, which in turn will improve their social skills.
As children grow up, friendships start becoming more important to them; in fact, many childhood friendships last a lifetime. Some children, however, find it harder to make friends, perhaps because they are shy, have different interests from their peers or are perceived not to fit in for whatever reason. Children who struggle to make friends can often feel isolated which, over time, can adversely affect their mental well-being.
One of the best ways of encouraging your child’s social development – especially if they are having a hard time making same-age friends at school – is to get them involved in extracurricular activities.
Some children have a natural talent for sport. If they are not inspired by the team sports played in PE lessons, there’s nothing to stop them trying out other sports, things like athletics, martial arts or sailing.
Similarly, naturally sociable children – and those who need more encouragement to mix – are often keen to pursue their own interests out of school. Some may want to pursue cultural and artistic pursuits, perhaps amateur dramatics or joining a band or orchestra, while others may show an interest in politics or be passionate about a specific cause. Extracurricular activities can help a child become more confident by extending their social circle and enabling them to make like-minded friends.
Volunteering is another great way for young people to get out and about and meet new friends. Children who are not yet old enough to volunteer for a charity in an individual capacity may still be able to help in other ways, e.g. making crafts items to sell at a fund-raising event, or helping with a local litter pick.
Of course, being socially active usually means having to travel outside your immediate community. While young children usually rely on their parents (or friends’ parents) for transport, older children will often be willing to make their own way to social or sporting activities. Public transport tends to be better in cities and urban areas, while in rural areas, young people may need to drive at the earliest opportunity.