Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
SALT LAKE CITY — This time of year, our attention returns to back to school and teaching children the skills they need to make it in the world. They obviously need math, reading, writing, history, science and technology, but there are also critical soft skills your child needs that are often overlooked.
Social skills help us create and maintain healthy relationships. These soft skills can greatly affect a person's happiness and success in life, which is why teaching them to children should be a priority.
Here are some signs that your child or teen is struggling with their soft social skills:
- They don't handle disappointment well
- They have trouble sharing
- They feel mistreated all the time
- They have trouble making or keeping friends
- They are the victim of bullying
- They are a bully or are critical of other people
- They miss social cues and make inappropriate comments
- They are too domineering or controlling
- They are overly timid or passive
- They can't solve problems on their own
- They interrupt others and don't listen
- They don't have good manners and don't say "please" and "thank you"
- They are inflexible and insist on having their way
Most kids — and many adults — have many of the above behaviors, and we could all benefit from improving our social skills. It is important to think of these skills as something you must keep learning, teaching and practicing throughout your life, not something you teach or learn once.
Social skills are best taught by example and by finding teaching moments all day, every day to model and point them out. But you can't give what you don't have, so many parents must work on these skills themselves first.
Essential soft skills and tips for teaching them
Self-trust and independence
This means using your own creativity instead of just following directions. Look for opportunities to not help your child accomplish something while supporting them in finding the answer themselves. Ask smart questions that prompt them to gather information, identify their options, and work through obstacles. Remind them they are smart and resourceful and they can do this on their own. Allow them to struggle a bit, so they learn to sit in frustration and learn to keep going anyway.
Handling unfairness, disappointment and mistreatment
Show this by example and make sure you handle these things with maturity, grace and grit yourself. Let them see you handle mistreatment maturely and think through whether this is something to bring up and resolve or let go. Children need to see you talk yourself through disappointment, the process of forgiveness, and having boundaries to care for yourself.
Don't respond positively to temper tantrums or fits. Make sure those behaviors are never rewarded. Instead, look for situations where your child feels unfairly treated or disappointed and talk them through the emotions that come up and what their options are in dealing with them.
Cooperation and compromise
This means learning to be flexible and not always getting your way.
Help your children understand there has to be give-and-take in every relationship. If you give to the other person, they want to give and compromise with you. Let them see you bending and giving up what you want on occasion and at other times asking for what you need.
When they get stubborn and insist on their way, help them to see the pros and cons of this behavior. If they choose to be demanding right now, what is the cost of that behavior? How does it affect the relationship? If they were flexible and giving, what would that create?
Healthy conversations and conflict resolution
This means asking questions to clarify what the other person is experiencing, wants and needs. You can teach this best by modeling the behavior with your children in every conversation you have with them, which will have the side benefit of making them feel valued, seen and important too.
Help them walk through validating conversations with siblings or friends when there is conflict. Show them how to speak their truth in a respectful way and work out a compromise. You can also role-play these kinds of problems or watch for situations in movies or TV shows, then pause the show and talk about a better what to solve the problem.
Processing of emotions and self-control
Show your children that it's OK to have feelings without stopping or stuffing them. It's OK to feel angry, but it's not OK to lash out and hurt others. It's OK to feel disappointed, but it's not OK to have a meltdown or fit. Instead, show them other ways to process their emotions, sit with them, and feel what they are saying.
When these big emotions come, it's important to ask: What could the emotions be here to teach me? Is there a better way to express the feelings, like drawing a picture, going for a bike ride, punching a pillow? What response would help create good relationships?
When a child struggles with self-control, it's usually because they are having emotions or energy that isn't being released. Help them find ways to release these and care for themselves in a healthy way.
Patience and being a good sport
Look for opportunities to make your children wait for things or practice losing a game with a positive attitude. Don't let your child win games or replace everything that gets broken; they need to experience loss and learn to deal with it. Allowing a child to go without even if they are really upset, prepares them for adulthood.
Insist that your child earns the money before they buy something and teach them to deal with cravings (the desire for things they don't have) and not be miserable. You can choose to be happy or you can be miserable. Either way, you don't have the thing. How do you want to live?
Look for examples in movies and TV of people being a good sport and handling loss, and point them out. Practicing patience and being a good sport are essential elements of emotional intelligence they must have to function as a healthy adult.
Teach them good manners
Make sure you say "please" and "thank you," open doors for others, give up your seat for an older person, and treat others with respect and compassion. Don't let them hear you judging, criticizing or gossiping about others. They learn kindness and respect from what you do, not what you say.
Think before you speak
This means before you make a comment ask yourself: Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary and kind?
Teach your children that some things are better left unsaid; and if you are uncertain if something is appropriate, err on the side of saying less. Teach them that words can hurt people and the way we speak to others determines the quality of our relationships. Kind, respectful communication can work through any issue.
Positivity about self and life
Teach your children that all human beings have the exact same intrinsic value and no one has more value or importance than any other. The world teaches them daily the opposite, so this is something you must talk about a lot. The world teaches them it's OK to look down on some people and even mistreat them. To counter this, you must constantly teach your children to be respectful and kind.
Also, teach them that their value can't change. No matter what they do, they have the same value as everyone else. Teach them that they are good enough right now and always because their value doesn't change and life is a classroom, not a test. This is probably the most important thing you can give them.
Hopefully, this article gets you started thinking about the relationship and social skills you and your children might need. Just start today looking for teaching moments. You can do this.