Social Skills (page 2)
Why are Social Skills Important?
Social skills are important for one very fundamental reason: They enable people to get along with others. But social skills have other virtues as well, some with lifelong implications. They enable children to:
- Make friends.
- Gain self-confidence and self-esteem, which increase their resilience (Michelson and Mannarino, 1986).
- Resolve conflicts more readily and less aggressively (Fabes and Eisenberg, 1992).
- Avoid peer rejection and victimization (Perry, Kusel, and Perry, 1988).
- Perform better at school (Cartledge and Milburn, 1995).
- Lower their risk for later delinquency and violence (Nagin and Tremblay, 2001; Tremblay, 1997).
- Become better adjusted adults (Michelson and Mannarino, 1986).
Because children with aggressive behavior are often rejected by their peers and have no friends, they have little opportunity to learn or practice social skills. As a result, they may become more aggressive and disruptive, making matters worse (Coie and Koeppl, 1990).
Children who behave aggressively also have difficulty processing social information. They don’t understand social cues very well, or they tend to assume that others have hostile intentions, whether they do or not. It may not occur to them to look around for additional information or think of alternative solutions to problems, and they may not consider what will happen if they respond aggressively.
Other children (and teachers) are afraid of children who behave aggressively and are inclined to put a negative spin on their behavior. Even when they begin to learn social skills, their reputation makes it hard for them to be accepted (Coie and Koeppl, 1990). These are the children who need social skills the most.
How do Children Learn Social Skills?
Children learn social skills—a major developmental task of early childhood—through lots of observation, repetition, and practice with their peers. With their social equals, children play roles and face dilemmas they don’t encounter with adults, so they learn to lead, follow, contribute ideas, respond assertively to threats and demands, negotiate, compromise, defer, problem solve, see multiple perspectives, work through issues of power, persuade, take turns, reason, cooperate, share, and learn the rules and niceties that make interactions run smoothly. The more time they spend interacting with their peers, the better they become at it. Even conflict is useful: It helps them hone all of these skills and understand other people’s feelings as well. Adults are important because they model, teach, and reinforce the appropriate behavior that children need to practice.
Friendship is extremely important for gaining social competence (Katz, Kramer, and Gottman, 1992; Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000). Children as young as 14 months prefer one child to another, and toddlers are quite capable of forming stable friendships (Andrews and Trawick-Smith, 1996). It requires considerable skill to maintain a relationship with a friend. Friends have more disputes because they’re together more often. But their conflicts are less intense and they resolve them more equitably, with more negotiation and compromise, because the friendship matters to them. An altercation will bring interaction between nonfriends to a halt, but friends will continue to play (Rubin et al., 1998). A child can have a friend even after the group has rejected her (Katz and McClellan, 1997), and that friendship will insulate her from some of the pernicious effects of rejection (Andrews and Trawick-Smith, 1996).
After a fight, most primates go out of their way to make peace with their opponents. Depending on the species, this reconciliation may take the form of mouth-to-mouth kissing, embracing, clasping the other’s hips, grooming, grunting, and holding hands. These reunions reduce the possibility of more aggression, enabling the animals to maintain social relationships that are vital to them as individuals and to the group as a whole. Grooming is particularly important. It fosters valuable partnerships and alliances (deWaal, 2000).
Similarly, children make up after a fight by inviting their friends to play, offering toys, gently touching one another, apologizing, and similar gestures (deWaal, 2000).
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