Learning social skills is a lot like learning to play the piano in that you need to learn some basic competencies and you need someone to teach you those skills. You need time to practice, guidance as you gain experience, and feedback along the way.
Social competencies are the skills and life perspectives young people need to develop into healthy, competent adults. These skills are important daily, but they're even more crucial when young people encounter the tough times in life.
Research shows the more personal skills young people have to interact with others and make decisions, the more likely they are to grow up healthy.
Healthy Communities-Healthy Youth of Warren County promotes five aspects of social competencies as crucial for helping young people: Planning and Decision Making, Interpersonal Competence, Cultural Competence, Resistance Skills, and Peaceful Conflict Resolution. Two of these assets-Planning and Decision Making, and Resistance Skills-focus on personal choice. The other three focus on healthy interpersonal relationships.
Tolerance, negotiation and compromise, sensitivity to others' feelings and needs, and appreciation of your own and others' cultures are critical skills to teach and model.
Help young people learn these skills by role-playing various social situations, following these steps: 1. Demonstrate the skill while the young person watches; 2. Do the skill together; 3. Let the young person do the skill alone while you watch; and 4. Provide feedback.
Try this at home: Let your child do things by himself or herself, even if it's not the way you would do it. Allow your child to make mistakes and learn from them.
Try this in your neighborhood: If there is a neighborhood disagreement, model the skills of negotiation and compromise to work toward a peaceful resolution.
Try this in your school or youth program: Encourage young people to plan with the use of agendas and calendars. Help them to learn and practice their planning and decision-making skills by engaging them in long-term projects. Teach them how to set short-term goals to keep their project on track and meet the final deadline.
I.F. Eastman, M.A., coordinates Healthy Communities-Healthy Youth of Warren County on behalf of Family Services. This article was adapted from Instant Assets, published by Search Institute.