What's so important about social skills for children?

March 19, 2019

What’s so important about social skills?

Especially when there are so many “important” things, like addition and spelling to conquer. After all, aren’t social skills simply picked up from regular daily activities? They’ll come naturally, right?
From listening to others to taking turns in conversations….. from staying calm with others to asking for help when we need it….. from apologizing to saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome”….. social skills are downright important. And often hard to learn.
Truth be told it’s frequently the case that children learn skills through their experiences, “picking them up” as they go through their days. It’s great when that happens, but it’s not always how it goes. For the majority of the children we serve at Crossroads Center for Children, there is a deep need for more attention to targeted instruction of social skills.
That’s why social skills are continually being taught in our classrooms. All of the classrooms plan play and social activities based entirely on the needs of their students. They set up scenarios and provide opportunities that will help the skills to be “picked up”.
 Wikipedia defines a social skill as “any skill facilitating interaction and communication with others. Social rules and relations are created, communicated, and changed in verbal and nonverbal ways. The process of learning these skills is called socialization”.
Of that definition, the morsel about the process of learning social skills is pretty important here at Crossroads Center for Children. We aim to help children prepare for success in life. We know from research and 20 years of actual experience with children that time spent teaching social skills has benefits in all areas of their development. Social skills are no small part of life success.  It’s easy to see the connection between social skills and skills in other areas of learning. Social skills can be seen as building blocks for other domains of life and learning. And, online, it’s easy to find articles – both scholarly and otherwise – on the topic of social skills development. Searchers can find abundant reading material specific to children with Autism, children with developmental special needs, and children in general.

While there are variations on the theme of which particular social skills are most important for success in life, most of us would agree that there are levels or stages that children move through. In teaching social skills, parents and teachers wouldn’t expect a higher level skill from a child who hasn’t yet achieved an earlier one. It would be like expecting an infant who hasn’t yet held his own head up to demonstrate the physical control over his body to run a race or play a game of soccer.
Since we have children across the autism spectrum as well as across the even larger spectrum of child development, our teachers and therapists are experts at assessment and evaluation. They are ingeniously able to pinpoint what skills their students have mastered and what needs to be addressed next.  As an ABA school our teachers go about teaching social skills with precision in planning and articulation of what skills are being targeted and what activities, including materials and location as well as other details, will help to bring about those skills for their children.

No two children are exactly alike, and students may be working on skills in more than one level or stage at a time. This is true for kids with Autism and also for children without disabilities who are typically developing peers here for daycare and nursery school.
So some children are practicing non-verbal social skills, such as tolerating being in close proximity with others, or tolerating physical contact. Some are working on verbal skills, like etiquette and manners, as well as conversational skills.  On the other hand, learning to recognize emotions by name, or label the members of one’s family is another important area for social skills development.  Important in order to become aware of one’s own emotions and those of others, and one’s own family.  Students learn about and develop relationships with family and friends. They learn to self-regulate and cooperate and think of the feelings and needs of others.  They develop play skills, and progress from isolate play to parallel play to cooperative play, dramatic play, and general play.

It’s amazing for a child to learn to tolerate the proximity of others when that used to be overwhelming. It’s a precious achievement to learn to ask for a turn, or to be able to enjoy sitting with peers to listen to a story. As it is to learn to ask for a Lego, for a break or some space when needed.  Families who gain family dinner once their child learns to sit at the table share with teachers the hugeness of their happiness. As do the parents of the child who learns to say “thank you” and later learns to spell those same words, to write them and draw a picture for his grandmother who sent him a birthday gift.
Yes, social skills are important in life. We know they are.


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