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Can I teach my child social skills?

Michele Borba
Psychology
The good news is that social skills can easily be taught. Studies from UCLA and Duke University -- as well as countless of other child development institutions -- prove that even children with the lowest skills in social competence can be helped. And teaching those skills can do nothing but enhance children's social confidence and expand their potential interpersonal fulfillment.
Yes, social skills can be taught. Some children develop social skills through positive interactions with the adults and peers in their immediate environment.  However, some children need direct instruction to gain these important skills. It is important to understand developmentally why the child is not performing the social skills expected of a child their age.  Is it lack of knowledge (they don’t know what to do) or is it lack of performance (the child knows what to do but fails to do so consistently)?
 
Here are some helpful tips to consider for developing social skills in young children. If the child lacks the knowledge and does not have the skill, one could teach them directly and then reward the child with something that motivates them (verbal praise, smile, soft touch) for each successful attempt. Once the child demonstrates the skill some of the time, parents and educators should attempt to “catch the child being good” (doing the appropriate skill) in the natural environment and praise or reward the child each time the desired skill is observed.  For example, if the child is working on sharing and is observed sharing an item with another child, the adult could comment, “Great job sharing your toys.” Some children also learn through observation. Provide positive praise to others who are engaging in positive social skills.  Parents or teachers could comment, “I really like the way Johnny shared his toys.”  This may motivate your child to mimic the positive behaviors of others.
 
Social skill acquisition will occur more rapidly if parents and educators work together to reward the child for the same skill in various environments.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.