Cultivating Connection: A Social Skills guide teaching children of all personalities how to navigate friendship & connection
Strong social skills allow children to enjoy healthy relationships. The benefits of having solid social skills extend far beyond peer acceptance - they go as far as impacting stress and emotion regulation and lead to better educational outcomes and relationships. It must be noted that social skills don’t come naturally to everyone. Not having the proper social skills to connect and communicate with others is very common, but can be debilitating - particularly for children. Struggling to navigate social skills manifests differently in every child but often includes a mix of the following: difficulty understanding what’s expected of them in social situations, issues decoding body language and maintaining eye contact, missing social cues, and anxiety around conversing. Below, I examine different personality types that I have seen struggle with social skill development, accompanied by tools to address their individual circumstances.
1. The Yard Clown
Problem: This child loves attention and derives joy from making others laugh. Although having a good sense of humor can be an immense strength, the problem develops when seeking laughter is not based on humor. A child who wishes to be funny at all costs may physically or emotionally harm themselves or others for the sake of making people laugh. Additional problems arise when they do not notice that their humor is annoying to others.
Possible ways to cope: It must be emphasized that a sense of humor can be a very positive trait; the issue lies in accurately assessing the environment and knowing when such humor is appropriate and desired, and when it becomes inappropriate, offensive, or annoying. When issues around this arise, you can address this through a direct conversation with your child called “how do you know when….?”, taught by discussing how to read cues such as body language and wording, as well as which contexts welcome humor, which contexts are less inviting to humor, and how to respect the word “enough”.
2. Control Obsessed
Problem: This child must be in control at all times. They wish to determine what they will play, when and with whom, and they will either abide closely to the rules or cheat so the game remains under their control. This child tends to not want help from others, and decides alone on the ground rules.
Possible ways to cope: An effective way to help the control obsessed child break free from their chains is to play board games using dice - resulting in a loss of control in baby steps. It is important to highlight to your child that everything depends on the fate of the dice, so their success or failure is not reflective of their skills or abilities. Another recommended game for this child to partake in is a treasure hunt. This game pushes them to submit control, yet gets them excited for a pleasant surprise awarded upon completion.
Problem: This child only feels comfortable in familiar places and is afraid when entering new situations with new people. They tend to be quiet, dislike attention, and are non-initiators. They often study environments thoroughly before entering & integrating, resulting in an ability to read people well. This child carefully selects a couple of close friends, staying loyal and not branching out beyond their limited comfort zone.
Possible ways to cope: I recommend easing into addressing this issue; it is important to provide your child with the certainty that you will be there for them until they are ready to individuate. Allow them their own pace, and remember that it is okay to keep their social circle small if that is what makes them feel most safe and happy. Their shyness is only a problem if it is problematic for them, causing them to avoid participating in activities they wish to be a part of.
Problem: This child continuously finds themself in situations where they end up feeling hurt. They often feel helpless, and people around them pick up on this. They easily cry and constantly need comfort - which is an effective way to seek attention and to problem-solve. However, they tend to lack complete awareness about this quality.
Possible ways to cope: If this child wants to be a social leader, you can explain how their need for others to comfort them and solve problems leads to a lack of trust. As parents, you will have to take a step back and give them space to cope. You should only assist them if they ask for help but try to resist the urge to instantly jump in and “rescue” them.
5. Trailing Behind
Problem: This child wants to be a part of an in-group, but is not confident enough to jump in. As a result, they trail behind. They struggle to feel self-worth and often go along with things from a fear of speaking up and asserting their needs.
Possible ways to cope: This child must first build their sense of confidence & self-worth. Positive reinforcements about accomplishments and original ideas are a great place to start. They will later feel connected to their inner truth - what they believe is right and in line with their gut feeling. From here, they gradually learn to make decisions that are authentic to themselves, instead of out of fear of letting others down. They learn that their old way of coping was self-destructive.
6. Warrior of Justice
Problem: This child seeks justice above all. They strictly abide by all rules and tattle on all rule breakers. They are highly inflexible and avoid any sources of injustice - at all costs.
Possible ways to cope: This child must be taught to distinguish between personal responsibility and that of others. Through hands-on experience, they shall realize they do not need to be a cop, aside from circumstances in which they see someone getting hurt. In this specific case they can certainly intervene.
Problem: This child must always win. They are so focused on the end goal that they do not enjoy the game. It is particularly difficult for them to accept a loss. In mild cases, they will ask for a redo whereas in more extreme cases they will become incredibly angry.
Possible ways to cope: Start by selecting a board game that they enjoy. Open the box, telling them to "win" and reclose the box. They will respond, "What? Why? We haven't played at all yet!". Simply answer them: "What matters to you is just to win, no? So here, you won.” By this point it is already clear to them that they want to win the game but they are pushed to recognize the value of the process. Competitive children attribute victory and loss to themselves. They must win because otherwise they are a failure. I therefore recommend starting with board games where fate plays an important role, such as ones involving dice - they will come to accept that victory or loss does not say anything about their abilities. You should mention this several times during the game to make it extra clear.
Problem: They are possessive of their belongings and have trouble sharing. Their friendships suffer because of this - they don’t even allow their friends to play with others
Possible ways to cope: Before friends come to play with them, have them select a game or doll that they get to keep “private”. Beyond that item, it is agreed upon that everything else is open for sharing. Explain to them that it is more pleasant to play with them when children play together and share toys. You can also engage them in a short simulation where they are the friend who wishes to play with you while you are the host that refuses to do so. How does it feel for your child? What would make them feel more comfortable? Now, recreate the game with joint play. How does this dynamic feel? Which circumstance would they like to stay in? What kind of host would they like to be? Your child also needs to come to understand that if they play with other children, it does not mean they are not friends anymore.
Problem: This child is hyper sensitive to the world. They take every little thing to heart, resulting in continuously feeling hurt. On the other hand, they have the ability to appreciate the little things - but this also means they feel the weight of the world in a particularly intense way.
Possible ways to cope: It is important that this child understands that they have control over certain things, but not over others. If they don’t have control, they can still usually take actions that make them feel better and that make change. For instance, donate old clothes and recycle plastic. Tell them the story of the thousands of starfish that were swept ashore and the small boy who wanted to throw them all back into the water. A passerby asked him what the point of this tedious activity was since he definitely could not save them all. The boy replied that for every starfish he saved, he saved an entire world - and for him, that was significant enough.
In the case that your child can’t do anything (i.e. in the case of something they heard on the news), balance this with something good in the same realm (i.e. contrast an animal abuse story with an animal rescue story). This will teach them that there is both a lot of good and a lot of bad in the world, but a black and white outlook will only hurt them. It all comes down to balance.
Problem: This child wants attention but seeks it in harmful ways - through harassment, taunting and pranking. They want to integrate socially but don’t know how to in a positive way. This results in children not liking them given their inappropriate, attention seeking behavior.
Possible ways to cope: The key to change in this type of child is to teach them to ask before they act. They recognize children playing ball and want to join - instead of grabbing the ball from them, ask patiently if they can join. Remind them that when they ask, the children have the option to say yes or no. In the event they are met by a “no”, they should give the children some space and find something else to do. They can also ask when else might be a good time to join. Additionally, when they have to learn to listen and cooperate instead of harassing and taunting when playing. This process may require some facilitation, especially if the child has already been labeled as a bully and thus has few opportunities for social integration.
Problem: This child is no longer struggling to fit in. They choose to achieve power and “success” through force. They always find children that will cling to them, enjoying the protection and power kick. This child generally has learned to solve problems physically.
Possible ways to cope: In the case of a bully, there must be an external intervention as well as provision of alternative tools for achieving success. They must understand that school needs to be a safe space for all and anyone using violence will be kept away until they understand that this ought to be taken seriously. In most instances, this child will need professional help or matters will worsen.
Problem: Their social struggles led them early in life to decide that they don’t need anyone - at which point they stopped trying. They prefer to be alone and to entertain them self, oftentimes through use of computer games.
Possible ways to cope: Being in solitude is a familiar, predictable and safe place for them. The only way to change this is to enter through their world, to encourage them to invite another child who loves computer games to come join them. Then offer to take them to a new movie that has come out, and finally plan a fun day or trip and offer to invite their friend to join. This way they will accumulate a memory bank of pleasant experiences with their new friend and they will come to understand that it is also possible to exist in the world with peers. They can still enjoy the feeling of being alone, but now they will have more of a choice.
13. Social butterfly
Problem: At first glance, they do not seem to have a social problem; they are constantly surrounded by friends - but at home they are sad and complain that they have no friends. All of their friendships are superficial and light hearted, and they don’t have true friends that they share their most authentic thoughts and feelings with.
Possible ways to cope: Think through with your child who the friends that surround them are. Prompt them to think about whether any of them have potential to be a true friend. If so, help them make that a reality by finding their common ground - what do they both enjoy? If it's legos, invite them over, alone, to build a new lego house!
Problem: This child has charisma and people are often drawn to them. However, this type of leader attracts people because they are powerful and controlling. Children obey them and would rather be with them than against them. Others avoid upsetting them at all costs.
Possible ways to cope: You have the ability to influence the type of leader your child is. Speak to them about superheroes who are strong and successful. Analyze together how and when they use their power. Talk to them about the different types of leadership and walk through the different positive intentions they can have when being a social leader. And no less important - teach them about empathy. Teach them to notice the needs of others - a great place to start is by reading stories together that involve an underdog.
As a parent, it’s important to know how to help your child work through social skill challenges that arise for them. On top of the information provided above, a universally effective & applicable strategy for teaching your children about social skills is through the Link Alike board game. We recommend you play this game together, and ultimately hand it off for your child to play with a friend. This game pushes children to find commonalities between people, to explore inclusion and diversity, to think creatively while building friendships, and to strengthen their ability to listen and relate to others. Although exploring the world of social skills is often exhausting for children, Link Alike makes this process much smoother and more enjoyable, while also building & solidifying social skills along the way. Strong Suit is another fantastic, tangible vehicle for teaching your child these coping mechanisms. It does wonders in the social skills arena as it guides children to see the positive qualities in themselves and others and therefore learn to feel more confident in their worth. Check these out and let us know what you think!