​Activities & Tricks to Help Kids Learn Key Social Skills

Author imageSeeing as most kids nowadays have their eyes glued on different types of screens, one might argue that social development is now more important than ever. Our children still need to learn how to interact with other people in the community and that’s where social skills come in.

Children with better social skills have a greater chance of cultivating more positive relationships and interactions with others and they generally have healthy self-esteem. Conversely, poor social skills have been linked to an increased risk of various physical and mental health problems including loneliness, anxiety and depression.

While many aspects of social development are an innate part of your kid’s unique personality and temperament, the environment they grow up in also determines how socially adept they become. Luckily, social skills can (and should) be taught even from a young age. As you endeavor to improve your kids’ social skills, remember that these are best learned in a social environment so have your kids interact in groups as much as possible.

Here are some fun activities and tricks that can help hone your kids’ social skills:

1. Board games to teach kids how to cooperate and take turns.

There’s nothing like a game of Snakes & Ladders to teach your kids how to play together, negotiate on who goes first and wait patiently for their turn. A good board game will also help your child learn how to follow instructions, stick with rules and be a good sport whether they’ve won or not.

You can also change up the rules of some games to encourage kids to cooperate towards a common goal e.g. instead of competing against each other while playing Uno, you can have them work together to eliminate adults instead. Remember to choose age-appropriate games and they’ll have so much fun that they won’t realize they’re also learning.

2. Play “Would you rather” to practice decision-making skills.

Decisions are part of life and what better way to help your kids refine those skills than engaging in a silly, goofy and outlandish game of “Would you rather…?” The good thing about this game is that you can come up with lots of options that compel kids to pause and think before making a decision. You can stimulate further thought by asking them to explain why they chose one option over another. Have kids come up with their own questions to make it more fun.

Some favorites include:

  • Would you rather grow all your own food or sew your own clothes?
  • Would you rather be able to control water or fire?
  • Would you rather always talk in rhymes or sing instead of speak?

3. Improve their communication skills by getting them to discuss favorite topics.

The ability to communicate effectively with others will determine the kind of interactions your child will have as well as the kinds of relationships they’ll forge in life. Effective communication consists of many distinct skills including conversation skills, listening skills, remembering what others say, reading body language and non-verbal cues, to mention a few.

One of the best ways to help kids learn these skills is by encouraging them to talk about their favorite topics. If you have more than one child, group them into pairs and have them practice the back and forth of a conversation. Make it a game where they have to listen intently to what the other person says, perhaps even write it down and then you can ask what they’ve learned about each other’s favorite topics.

4. Use books and videos to help kids identify and express their emotions.

The ability to identify, express, accept or manage feelings is crucial to a child’s emotional development. Identifying emotions and finding healthy ways to express them are skills that last into adulthood. Being young, kids struggle to name what they’re feeling and they might also struggle with managing emotions.

As part of your kid’s learning, you can read kids’ books about feelings or watch videos together that help them understand their emotions. To make things more interactive, you can create a chart listing different emotional states then have your kids draw different faces showing those feelings and stick them on the corresponding areas on the chart.

5. Teach kids to problem solve with entertaining activities.

We parents are often guilty of stepping in to help our kids whenever we see them struggling. Unfortunately, this can cripple their ability to solve problems on their own. Luckily, there are a variety of activities your kids can participate in to encourage them to look at problems from different angles and come up with alternative solutions.

Some classic problem-solving games include jigsaw puzzles, jenga blocks and charades. Older kids can be introduced to origami or you can even have them follow a recipe to make a simple snack.

Several games and activities can always be modified to tickle your kids’ creativity in order to polish their social skills. Above all, remember that you are your kids’ biggest role model, so ensure you set a good example for them to emulate.

Resources:

Improving Communication With Your Teen- Infographic (n.d). Retrieved from https://www.sundancecanyonacademy.com/improving-communication-with-your-teen-infographic/

Emotional Development (n.d). Retrieved from https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/mental-health-matters/social-and-emotional-learning/emotional-development

Katie (2017, May 3). 45+ books about feelings for kids. Retrieved from https://www.giftofcuriosity.com/books-about-feelings-for-kids/

Editor. (2016, October 4). 17 Fun Problem Solving Activities & Games [for Kids, Adults and Teens]. Retrieved from https://icebreakerideas.com/problem-solving-activities/

Insights into Loneliness

Experts are warning us that we are in midst of a loneliness epidemic. In fact, the U.K. has recently appointed a minister of loneliness to deal with what Prime Minister Theresa May says is a “sad reality of modern life.” Our mobile society (with people increasingly moving away from family and friends), our technologically wired culture (where people are engaging less with their real-life environment and other people in it), and the growing pressure to work more (so, in part, that people can consume more), create a kind of existential stew that contributes not only to loneliness, but also to a general loss of connectedness.

Loneliness is invading more and more people’s lives, increasing stress, depression, even affecting physical health (it’s associated with greater risk of cardiovascular disease, and research shows that it is as bad for people’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day). But what can a person do, given the modern-day barriers that can lead to these feelings of isolation? Perhaps it’s about building our own small communities within the larger context of society, making meaningful connections within the very situations and structures that may have contributed to our loneliness in the first place.  

Loneliness can overtake people in small, quiet towns and in large, bustling cities. It can overwhelm the stay-at-home parent as well as the top executive of a major corporation. No matter where you’re living or what you’re doing, the answer is about making connections with people who care about you — and whom you care about as well. Whether you have moved away from family and friends or are feeling isolated in your own hometown, there are ways to find a new support system. Sometimes it’s as simple as joining a newcomers club or checking out groups, such as a book, food and drink, or hiking club (meetup.com lists many different categories — music, film, social, and tech are only a few examples). A friend of mine also says that she’s combated loneliness by going to the gym on a regular basis, which not only helps her physical and mental health, but also keeps her connected to a community that she’s slowly but surely created and that she fondly refers to as her “fitness family.”   

Although clubs and gyms are great ways to meet and connect with people who share similar interests, sometimes loneliness stems from something larger than a general lack of community. Sometimes loneliness hits people because they feel as if no one in their lives can understand their struggles and pain. I know from personal experience that when I first experienced anxiety, I had never felt so alone. Even though I had family and friends around me, it seemed as if I were stranded on a kind of emotional desert island.

With time, I learned to use many modalities to help free my mind from the constant “what-if” thoughts (including the cathartic act of writing, replacing negative self-talk with productive statements, and studying self-help books on anxiety). Part of my healing process also involved connecting with other anxiety sufferers on Twitter. Knowing that I wasn’t alone in my struggles decreased my overall sense of isolation — and, yes, even loneliness. I have read many similar sentiments online as well. So while our technologically obsessed culture can increase alienation and loneliness, it can also have quite the opposite effect. It’s learning how to use it to your advantage by connecting to others going through similar struggles, by not only getting support — but also giving it.

Loneliness can also stem from work exhaustion. In fact, an article in the Harvard Business Review (June 29, 2017), states that close to 50% of people in the General Social Survey of 2016 said they were often or always exhausted due to work. This is a 32% increase from just 20 years ago — and it’s important to note that there’s a significant correlation between feeling lonely and work exhaustion. (This article also notes that research by Sarah Pressman at the University of California, Irvine demonstrates that loneliness reduces longevity by a whopping 70%). Given these startling statistics, it’s important to recognize if one’s feelings of ongoing loneliness are due to work burnout. And if that’s the case, then it may be time to challenge priorities and find a healthier life balance.

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