I always thought of my daughter as a social butterfly when she was little. I was completely unprepared for the tween years when friendship drama and introverted tendencies came alive and my sweet little girl withdrew from social situations. Finally, after one tear-filled conversation, she asked me, “Can you help me to be better with people?”
We don’t want our children to think they must be the life of the party in order to be successful. We want to love them just as they are! We do, though, want to instill in them basic verbal skills to help them throughout life. In this technology-driven age, our kids are learning to shop, play, research, and interact over a screen. We need to equip them for good old face-to-face communication.
1. Find common ground
We tend to like people who are like us. When we can find something in common we have a basis to build on, whether it is the foundation of a lifelong friendship or just a five-minute conversation. Maybe it’s the Harry Potter book tucked under their arm, the cute skirt, or the recess soccer game. Kids can almost always find something to compliment or relate to. What better way to break the ice than by building someone up?
2. The power of a name
Hearing our name spoken by a friend tells us that we are seen and known as an individual. I find that addressing someone by name causes me to look more directly at them, and it almost always brings a light to their eyes.
3. Use your ears more than your mouth
People love to be heard. Teaching our children how to listen is even more important than teaching them how to talk—and I don’t just mean listening to instructions from teachers or obeying us as parents. Encourage them to ask questions to show interest in what the other person is saying. Show your children how to use reflective listening in their conversations: Let the other person talk, then repeat what they said in your own words to confirm that you heard them correctly. (“So your mom said you can get a dog when your room is clean? Cool! What kind of dog do you want to get?”) Not only is this good for general conversation, but it’s a fantastic tool in conflict resolution, too.
4. Act it out
Our kids love to play the “acting out game.” We create scenarios for them to play out, then score their theatric interpretations and declare a winner. While we sometimes let the kids come up with their own silly scenes, my husband and I often direct them to work through an awkward scenario (you overhear your friend telling someone at school how weird your outfit looks today) or tough situation (your teacher disciplines you for forgetting your homework three days in a row). Giving them the opportunity to work through these social setups in a low-pressure environment helps them to be better prepared for the real thing.
5. Set the example
As in just about every parenting situation, the best way to teach social skills is through modeling. Let them see you introduce yourself to new people, watch as you interact with waiters (and ask them to order their own meals, too), and observe how you handle both small talk and deeper conversations. Go over interactions with them afterward. Point out small details like eye contact, personal space, touches, and hand gestures.
As in just about every parenting situation, the best way to teach social skills is through modeling.
Want more suggestions? Here are 5 more ways to teach your kids how to communicate better.
How do you encourage your child to grow socially while respecting their individual personalities?