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What to do about your child’s dying social skills

Alicia DiFabio, Psy.D. is a freelance writer with a doctorate in psychology. Her work has appeared in various newspapers, magazines, psychology journals and professional sourcebooks. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and four girl...

talking face-to-face

In a world dominated by digital communication, parents worry about their children’s ability to develop the necessary face-to-face social skills required for successful interpersonal relationships.
Kids on iPad

Social skills need not die in an era of technology if they are introduced and practiced as early as possible.

Digital communication such as texting, emailing and social media are increasingly replacing old-fashioned, face-to-face communication. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 7-1/2 hours a day using some type of electronic device such as an iTouch, cell phone, or computer to both entertain and communicate. While technology can connect us in many positive ways, when it is introduced to young children as a way to occupy and/or appease them, it may result in long-term difficulty with the ability to initiate social interactions, emotionally regulate, resolve conflict, and engage in small talk or spontaneous reciprocal conversation.

How to build strong social skills in a high-tech world

The basic skills for face-to-face communication will remain under-developed without parental coaching and modeling, consistent reminders, rehearsal and repetition. There are several fundamental building blocks to the development of healthy social skills that can be easily practiced every day.

Eye contact

Face-to-face communication requires eye contact. Encourage your children to look people in the eye when they are communicating, even if it means interrupting your children’s play or rerouting their attention.

Proper volume

Give children feedback on the proper clarity, tone and volume of their speech. In other words, remind them to speak up and speak clearly when communicating.

Conversation starters

Rehearse some basic conversation starters with your children so they are prepared to engage in the art of small talk and feel comfortable initiating dialogue. Review a few good questions for the more introverted child to ask in order to keep a conversation going.

Good manners

Good manners speak volumes about you, whether you are a child or an adult. A child who is courteous, respectful, and mannerly will often have excellent social skills because she has been taught how to demonstrate thoughtfulness toward others.

Practice greetings

Practice greetings when visiting others or welcoming guests. Make sure your children stop what they are doing, look the visiting party in the eye and say ‘hello’ at arrival and ‘goodbye’ upon departure.

Taking turns

Turn-taking is an important skill to develop in very young children. A child who learns to take turns with a toy or a swing is also learning about reciprocity in communication.

Dealing with down time

Allow children to tolerate unstimulated downtime (or in other words, allow them to be “bored”) rather than succumb to electronic devices. This provides more opportunity to communicate with family or peers or simply to have an internal dialogue that stems from thoughts and daydreams.

Being a good role model

Model good social skills by recognizing your own reliance on, and distraction by, electronic devices. If you find yourself texting and checking your smartphone every five minutes during a face-to-face conversation or a family dinner, remember your children are learning through your example.

Technology can bring people together but if poorly monitored and misapplied it can become a detriment instead of a supplement to communication in the 21st century. A parent’s role is to minimize the drawbacks of an overly-technological world and prioritize social skills at an early age. Doing so will ensure a lifetime of mutually gratifying professional and personal relationships for our future generations.

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