The Four P’s to Developing Social Skills
As children get older, they become part of a larger social world – they begin to form relationships with other children and adults in school as well as outside of school. Being sociable helps us with resilience (the ability to withstand hard times). Children who are constantly rejected by peers are lonely and have lower self-esteem.
Role of parents
Parents can help their children learn social skills so they are not constantly rejected or begin to bully and reject others. Parents can act as coaches for their children to develop these social skills. Children learn a lot from how parents treat them and when they observe how parents interact with others.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents use a four-part strategy when helping their children develop social skills; Practice, Praise, Point out, and Prompt. It should be noted that these strategies should initially be discussed and used privately, not in front of others. These steps can be used when parents observe a particular social skill that needs to be addressed.
The four P’s
- Practice. Help your child substitute an appropriate response for an inappropriate one. You can brainstorm with your child about possible alternative responses and then practice those responses with your child. Practicing may mean mapping out specific words to use in particular situations role-playing, and using the newly learned behavior in real situations.
- Praise. Reward your child with verbal or non-verbal praise when a new skill is practiced as a way of helping that skill become a habit. This might be a specific verbal statement (“I love how you X instead of Y when your sister grabbed that toy away from you.”), a nonverbal sign such as a thumbs up, or even a treat (10 minutes extra outside playtime in the afternoon).
- Point out. Parents can use opportunities to point out when others are observed using the targeted skill. It might be a specific behavior of another adult, a child, or even a character in a book or on TV. Give your child examples and role models of people engaging in the appropriate social skill and discuss the effects of that skill on those around the person observed.
- Prompt. Parents can gently remind their children to use a new skill when the opportunity arises within their daily routines. It is important that this isn’t seen as nagging, but as supporting a targeted goal. Reminders may be verbal (“Now is a good time to count to ten in your head”) or non-verbal (the action of a finger to the lips as a sign to be quiet when a child is about to interrupt).
Practice and patience
Patience is important because learning new skills takes time and practice. The ability to have good social relationships is not simply about personality or in-born traits. People with good social interactions have learned these skills and they practice them regularly.
Wiley, A. (2007). Importance of teaching social skills to children. Connecting with Kids, University of Illinois Extension, Spring 2007.