School is an important learning experience - not only for reading, writing, and arithmetic, but for the basic social skills young people carry into the rest of life.

Social skills are the skills that help each of us adapt to a social environment. They provide the ability to cooperate, coordinate, and "get along."

Even before kids face down any high-stakes academic testing, peers "grade" them on social skills. This can influence a child's self-image from a very early age. Adolescents and teens feel significant pressure to conform socially.

Of course, there are some major differences between the social environment in grade school and the ones young people enter in college, the working world, and adult society. Even so, an early grasp of social skills often leads to greater confidence and emotional resilience.

How Social Skills Affect Adolescence and the Teen Years

In school, social skills influence a child's ability to make friends and win acceptance from peers. At early ages, children might be more apt to play with those who show strong social skills.

Feeling awkward or uncomfortable at school can make the emotional pain of growing up more acute. Students who don't enjoy a high degree of social acceptance may think something is "wrong" with them. This can have a lasting negative impact on self-esteem.

Research has shown low social understanding relative to peers can contribute to the development of social anxiety in children. Those perceived as less socially skilled are frequently targeted by bullies, which can have life-long mental health consequences.

Teens who draw on a strong base of social skills often find it easier to explore outside the home and look for opportunities like a first job or volunteering experience. They may also feel more able to handle the challenges of striking out on their own in college or beyond.

Encouraging Social Skills for the Real World

Many young people become more socially adept as they grow up and identify peer groups based on their own needs or interests outside the school environment. However, at their core, social skills are communication skills - and these can be taught.

Practice Social Skills With Your Child

When caregivers and other trusted adults model social skills, children are more apt to listen and learn. Adults can help young people learn appropriate social skills by engaging them in genuine conversation and asking open-ended questions about their thoughts.

Consider coaching children in:

  • Greetings, including the nonverbal components of greeting someone appropriately.
  • Closing a conversation, including knowing when the other person wants to end it.
  • Observing and listening to others, including understanding another's tone of voice.
  • "Previewing" - encouraging children to consider how their words will affect others.

Look for Social Activities Outside School

When a young person has difficulty socializing in school, it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy: Peers respond based on "reputation" and are even less apt to reward any positive social behaviors.

Social activities outside of school, especially those based on beloved hobbies or self-chosen activities, can give adolescents and teens a new environment in which to foster social confidence.

Coordinate With Teachers

Teachers can use particular classroom management strategies to sharpen social skills. Talk with your child's teacher to decide whether any of the following could help:

  • Pairing socially experienced children with less adept ones for activities.
  • Engaging classmates in cooperative, rather than competitive, exercises.
  • Making bullying "uncool" through proactive lessons about acceptance.

Depression and anxiety can result when a young person suffers socially. Wilderness therapy is one possible solution, since it provides a safe, supportive environment to build peer relationships.

To find out more, contact WinGate Wilderness Therapy.

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