How to Help a Child Develop Social Skills

Words by
Jana Dalby

OCT 23, 2020

How to Help a Child Develop Social Skills

When your kid gets their first phone, you can’t blame them for playing with it. But too many times, they do so to the exclusion of other people. The truth is, tech has changed our kids’ friendships. Many of them would prefer to sit in their room and text than actually talk to someone. And in rare cases, they may not have any friendships that don’t revolve around a phone screen. One of the best ways to help kids use phones in safe, constructive ways is to teach them to build real-world relationships. These relationships encourage empathy, physical activity, and bonds that outlast any digital device. They’re the ones your kids will cherish and find meaning in. Don’t let your kid grow up glued to their device. Here are a few tips for knowing how to help a child develop social skills outside of their phone.

How to Help a Child Develop Social Skills

Spend Quality Time With Each Child Every Day

Time with your child doesn’t have to be elaborate or complicated. But as their parent, you need to show them that they’re special to you. Over time, they’ll see they need to treat others the same way. 

Start with simple conversation: What did they learn in school today? Who’s that hip new artist they’ve been listening to? What do they want to do this weekend?

If you can’t get them to open up, try an activity instead. Cook dinner, take the dog for a walk, play catch, or listen to a podcast.

Eat Phone-Free Meals Together

These days, it’s hard to eat every meal as a family. That’s OK, but do try to sit down for dinner together at least every other evening. 

Especially if you struggle to squeeze in family meals, make sure they’re phone-free. Silently staring at screens while you eat defeats the whole purpose. 

Realize that you may need to get the ball rolling. Ask non-school questions, or let them teach you about a topic that interests them.  If you have to, play “20 Questions” with everyone at the table. 

Touch Base Before Bed

When your child is winding down is a great chance to connect. Show them how much more rewarding this can be than playing on their phone. 

Not only does this highlight the importance of relationships, but it’s important for your kid’s health. Screens suppress melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Getting enough sleep is critical for kids’ social and emotional development.

Let Them Lead Conversations

It can be difficult to listen to your children talk about their favorite new Disney movie over and over again. But it’s important that you let them choose the subject of the conversation sometimes. 

To build relationships, your child needs to feel like her ideas are valued. Not just following along, but actually leading conversations is part of getting to know new people. 

As a parent, this has an added perk: It will give you a better idea of what your child is thinking about. You’ll get a better sense of who their friends are, what they care about, and how to help them become a productive adult. 

Be Present

Children (and adults) who have trouble putting down their phones are looking for connections to other people. Being present during conversations with your child shows them how to be present in their own relationships.

At work, at home, and in your social life, there’s always some new drama or task to worry about. Being present with your child means putting those things out of your mind. Give yourself permission to think about them after the conversation is over. 

Unplug Around Them

Walk into any public place, and you’ll see adults glued to their phones. While you can’t control their behavior, you can provide a counterexample to your children.

Ask the whole family to unplug over holidays, during car rides, and on vacations. Your kids will probably protest at first, but they’ll be amazed at how fun road trips can be when everyone is focused on each other.

If you or your kids struggle with this, go somewhere without cell service. Go camping, take a float trip, or simply spend an afternoon hiking. 

Sign Them Up for Group Activities

Group activities aren’t possible when everyone is focused on their phone. More important than the activity itself is the bonds they’ll build during it.

Let your child choose something they truly enjoy. Sports, band, student government, Boy Scouts, 4H, faith-based groups, volunteering organizations: All can help your child see just how fun interacting with others can be. 

Give Them Love and Hugs

Human touch is important for your child’s development. Aim for 12 hugs (8 for adults) or other physical contacts — such as tousling their hair or patting their back — every day. 

If your child pulls away from you, don’t be discouraged. Try playing games, like spinning them around, or simply holding their hand. If their avoidant behavior persists, reach out to your child’s doctor. 

Healthy, real-world relationships make life worth living. Show them just how much more fun a conversation can be in person. They might even start putting down their phone without you having to ask. 

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