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How Parents Can Facilitate Social Success for Their Children

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

As children grow, their relationships with their peers become increasingly influential in their lives. Children’s friendships not only provide a foundation for later adult relationships, they also buffer children from stress and lessen the risk of later emotional and behavioral problems. When children are socially successful, their friendships are a source of well being, pride, and identity. Yet some have difficulty getting along with others because of shyness, conflict, teasing, or other challenges. Parents can do a great deal to facilitate the social success of their children by recognizing barriers and providing appropriate guidance and support.

Common barriers to healthy social development

Social anxiety is a common obstacle to social success. Many children experience shyness at some point, usually during class presentations, school plays, or dances. Although shyness is usually temporary, some children are troubled by more significant fears of embarrassment or rejection. This anxiety may cause them to be quiet and withdrawn in social interactions, or in more serious cases, to avoid these encounters altogether. In some children and teens, this social anxiety may eventually lead to depression, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in social encounters.

Other children may struggle socially because of disruptive, impulsive, or aggressive behaviors. Some children have difficulty making or keeping friends due to overly exuberant, hyperactive tendencies. These children may interrupt conversations, have difficulty waiting their turn, or intrude on others’ play. They may also become frustrated easily and have a hard time calming themselves down, resulting in tantrums or aggression. Besides creating trouble for parents and teachers, these objectionable social behaviors may make children unpopular with peers.

How to encourage social success:

Parents play an important role in the social lives of their children, both directly and indirectly. This eventually becomes a supporting role, with children taking center stage and parents quietly providing the necessary elements--rides to the mall, brownies at a sleepover, or consolation after a negative experience. The following are some general guidelines for encouraging social success:

  • Use parent-child and sibling relationships. Research has shown that warm, trusting family relationships lay the roundwork for healthy social development in children. Use the ups and downs of family interactions to teach important social lessons.
  • Practice what you preach. Model positive social skills by sharing how you handle arguments, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings as they occur. Children look to their parents’ behavior to help them understand new or confusing situations.
  • Get to know your child’s friends. Offering to facilitate social encounters for your child or teen can provide natural opportunities to get to know his or her friends. You don’t need to overstay your welcome--moments in the car, in a restaurant, or at an amusement park can really add up.
  • Listen first, talk later. Listen to your child’s complaints about his or her peers with genuine interest, and resist giving advice before your child feels understood. Knowing how to handle teasing or rejection doesn’t necessarily make children feel better. Being heard and understood just might.
  • Praise, praise, praise. Go out of your way to praise your child’s treatment of others. Statements like, “I love the way you kept calm when your sister was yelling at you,” or, “It was nice how you invited Jake to the movie,” actively reinforce your child’s respect and caring for others.
  • Explore a variety of social settings. Trouble connecting with schoolmates is often due to a mismatch of personalities or interests. Introducing your child to new and varied social circles like team sports, clubs, or youth groups may provide for a better social “fit.”
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