How to Improve Social Skills for Kids
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In this episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast, host Elizabeth Urbanowicz engages listeners with the question, "How do I help my kids develop good social skills?" Diving into her experiences as a teacher and the challenges of digital distractions, she offers critical insights into the importance of teaching children basic social skills. By the end, listeners are reminded of the ultimate goal: to equip children to love God through loving others well.
Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.
Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "It seems like most kids these days do not know how to interact well with others. How do I help my kids develop good social skills?" Such an important question to be asking in 2023. I love this question.
Before we dive into this question, if you have a question that you would like answered on a future Foundation Worldview Podcast, you can submit your question by going to FoundationWorldview.com/podcast. Also, if you found the content of this podcast beneficial, we'd ask you to consider liking and subscribing to make sure that you don't miss any future episodes and when also ask that you consider writing a review and sharing this content with others in your sphere of influence so that we can equip as many Christian adults as possible to get our kids to carefully evaluate every idea and understand the truth of the biblical worldview.
Now, this question about social skills is a really important one, and I saw this firsthand as I was teaching that I started to notice around my seventh year of teaching that the students in my classroom, they didn't know how to make eye contact. They didn't know how to smile and respond when I would say good morning to them. And I thought, wow, this is so different than the students that I taught 4, 5, 6, 7 years ago, that I actually had to start directly teaching them just basic social skills. So this is a really important question for us to think through as we're considering how do we equip the children that God has placed in our care to live faithful lives in this world?
Now, those of you who are familiar with the Foundation Worldview Podcast or any Foundation Worldview materials in general, know that I always love to ask one important question whenever we're answering any question, and that question is, what is the goal? Because there's nothing in scripture about our kids having positive social skills. Even the term "social skills." For those of you listening, I just put that in air quotes. "Social skills" is a relatively recent term, a relatively recent invention of the term, although the concept has been around for forever. So we want to think through, okay, what is the goal? Why do we want our children to develop positive social skills?
I would say that the goal in this is we want to equip our children to love God through loving others well. So that's the goal. It's not just that our children would be good citizens or fit in with society, but we want to equip them to love God through loving others well. So then the next question becomes, what type of skills do our children need to accomplish this goal? What kind of skills do we need to equip them with so that they can love God through loving others well.
And as we think through the skills that this requires, some of these skills are going to be culturally based. They're going to be tied to a specific time and culture. While some of the skills are going to be universals, they're not going to be based on any time or culture, but they're going to be ways that God has actually created us and commanded us to interact with others.
So first, as we think through certain cultural skills, as I'm recording this podcast, I'm recording it in the US. And so the social skills that are acceptable in the US are pretty similar to social skills in most Western countries. And so right now, social skills that are important in the Western culture in 2023, one is eye contact actually looking someone in the eye when you're talking with them. Another social skill is smiling, actually presenting a pleasant countenance, showing a face that others are going to feel comfortable around and want to be around. Another social skill is just some basic greetings and responses.
Now, this might not be the best way ethically to greet someone, but in our culture we kind of have this, "hi, how are you? I'm, I'm fine, how are you? Good." And then we move on. And I'm not saying that that should be our only way of greeting, but our kids at least need to know these basic skills that when somebody says, "hi, how are you?" we're not supposed to look away and just keep going. We're supposed to make eye contact, smile and respond to what they have said.
Now, in this time and culture in which we find ourselves, one of the reasons that social skills among children are so lacking is because of their heavy and involvement with screens. Now, please don't hear me saying that all screens are bad. Many of you watching this podcast are interacting with it through a screen. There can be many benefits to screens. However, when screen time replaces actual physical, personal interactions, the children that God is placed in our care only know how to react transactionally with a screen instead of relationally with a person.
I mentioned before how in my classroom, I noticed around my seventh year of teaching that I needed to start directly teaching the children in my care, social skills. And when I did the math and counted backwards and figured out when those kids were born, all of those children were born that my seventh year of teaching, they were born in 2006, which when you do the math, the iPhone was invented in 2008. So from the time those children were two on up, they were surrounded by screens, and that had a profound impact on them. So what I had to start doing was actually starting to teach my students these social skills. And so I would do it through discussion, through modeling, and then through practice.
And so I noticed that seventh year that as I greeted my students in the morning, every morning I would stand at the front door of the classroom and I would only allow one kid in the classroom at a time so that I would have an opportunity to smile at them, say, good morning, give them a hug. And I noticed so many students were just shooting past me without making eye contact, without smiling, without responding when I said, good morning. And so what I would do is I would tell them, I would just say, "Hey, the way that a lot of you are responding when I greet you in the mornings, it's not appropriate. It's not the way that you are to show love to me or to other people." And so then what I would do is I would model the different options of how I saw them walking in the classroom.
So I'd have one student stand on a chair, make sure it was safe and sturdy, and they would pretend to be me. And I would walk past them and they would say, every time I walked past them, they would say, "good morning, Elizabeth. How are you?" And I would respond in a different way each time. One time I would just keep my head down and I would go right past them, and then the next time I would look at them and not say anything and move past them. The next time I would look at them and smile and move past them. And then the next time I would look at them, smile and say, "I'm doing well, how are you doing Ms. Urbanowicz?" And then these interactions, these modeling would make my students laugh. They found it funny. But then we would debrief and we'd talk through.
It'd say, "okay, I want you to talk in groups. Now what did I do each time that so-and-so greeted me? What were the good things that I did? What were the things that were not so good?" And we would debrief and we would talk about how important it was to smile, to make eye contact, and to respond. Then I'd have them practice with one another. Then I'd have them stand up, get in the line, stand outside the classroom, and we would practice. I would have each one of them come in and I would greet them and they would go through the appropriate response. And so this is what one thing that we have to do with our children, that we have to actually practice positive social skills, these culturally based social skills with them. We have to model it for them, but we also have to practice and offer them feedback.
And I can remember even as a child and as a teen, there were times when my mom would discipline me and correct me if I did not treat others the way that she expected me to treat them. I can remember coming home from a church event one evening and she said, Elizabeth, when you were talking with Mrs so-and-so, she said you were not making eye contact with her, and you were showing her that you did not want to be involved in that conversation. That is not right. You need to go to Mrs so-and-so when we see her on Sunday morning, and you need to apologize for that. And that that would happen not frequently, but every so often when I would not engage or interact with others in an appropriate way, my mom would correct me and would make sure that I went and corrected my behavior and apologized to those who I need needed to apologize for.
Now, sometimes I think when we're working with kids and the kids are shy and we just tend to think like, "oh, they're shy. It's cute." When they hide behind mom or when they look away, well, that might be what they're most comfortable with, but it's not just being shy. They're actually not interacting with others in a way that our culture shows love. And so when we are not loving others, we are actually sinning against them. And I know that this sounds harsh, but it's the harsh reality. And so we don't need to force our children to change their personality or change who they are, but if they're more shy and they don't make eye contact and they don't really respond, we have to make sure that we are training them to do that, that we are gently and lovingly growing them in this. Because if they just hide behind us or they turn their face away, or they don't respond when someone asks them a question or talks to them, they're actually sinning against that person.
So those are the cultural skills that we need to make sure that we're actually directly modeling and teaching our children that in the west, the eye contact, the smiling, the basic greeting. Then there are some universal skills that were commanded in scripture to practice, to love others no matter the time or cultural context in which we live. And one of those skills, and again, we're not going to have time to talk about all of the possible skills today on this very short podcast, but I'm going to cover two of them. One of those skills is being quick to listen and slow to speak, that that's something in the book of James that we are commanded to do, that we're commanded to be quick to listen and slow to speak. And so we need to actually teach our children how to listen well and how to engage with others.
And one of the ways that we in which we need to do this is by training them to ask good questions. Now, most of us not do not naturally think of good questions to ask others. It's hard. My mom is one of the best people at doing this, one of the people who I know who's most skilled at doing this, at asking others thoughtful questions, but my mom is an introvert in that it takes a lot of energy out of her to interact with others. And she's told me she gets tired after a while of engaging with others, but she's still very intentional. And so we need to make sure that we're training our kids to ask others good questions.
I once saw a mom of a young child do this so well. I was staying with friends of mine and they had another family living with them, and this family had two young children. I think the kids were like three and one, and we were just seated around the dining room table eating breakfast one morning, and we were talking to the three-year-old, and then the mom turned to the three-year-old and she said, Audrey, what is a good question that you think we can ask Miss Elizabeth? And I thought, wow, this is such an important skill even at the age of three to teach a child. Let's think of a question I can ask the person across the table.
So even if you have a three-year-old, you can ask them that in a social situation, you know, can practice it at home and then even ask them while you're out for lunch with a friend, or when you have someone over your house or when you're on the playground with another family, what do you think is a good question? We can ask so and so, and then ask that question.
For those of you with older kids, you can practice this, one night at dinner, you can just brainstorm what are some good questions that you think we can ask others so that we can get to know them better? And you can write down a list of good questions, brainstorm that. You can even keep it on a whiteboard in your house so that whenever one of you thinks of a good question, you can go and write it down. Then what you can do is you can take those questions, you can write them out on little index cards or slips a paper, and you can keep them in a bowl at the dinner table and practice asking one another those questions.
You can even practice then asking follow-up questions. Now that we heard so-and-so share this with us. What's a follow question that we can ask him or her? So just practicing these good conversation skills in being quick to listen and slow to speak.
Now, conversely, we also need to teach our children how to engage well so that others can listen to them giving more than a one word answer. So if we have a child that's very quiet and just says like, "yes, I don't know, sure," usually that happens in the teenage years, then we need to say, okay, I need a little bit more from you. From that, I asked a yes or no question. What's a different question I can ask to actually draw them out? So we need to just train our children to be quick to listen and slow to speak.
Another universal skill that we are commanded and scripture is to consider others more significant than ourselves. So we need to be training our kids. How can we look out for the needs of others? How can we look for who we can serve? This was something my mom did such a great job of when I was growing up, that I struggled greatly with anxiety when I was a child. I still struggle with it now, but to a lesser degree, as God continues to sanctify me. But as a child, my mom would never let me sink inside myself with the anxiety if she would always affirm the way I was feeling. You know that? Yeah, that is scary, that is hard. We need to trust God in this. And then she would ask me, who is someone you can reach out to in this situation? So she would train me to take my eyes off of myself and place them on someone else.
So this is something we can do within our home. How can you asking your child, how could you help your brother in this situation? What is something that we can do to help grandma? What is something that we can do to help our next door neighbors to constantly be asking ourselves, how can we be helping others?
Now, you may be thinking, "Elizabeth, this takes so much time." Yes, it does. It really does. That discipling our children well takes a lot of time. And so that's something that we need to think through. If we want to raise children who know and love Jesus and love Jesus through loving others, it is going to take a significant time investment. And this might mean cutting back on afterschool activities. This might mean not being in any extracurricular activities. This might mean actually homeschooling or choosing another more flexible model of education so that we have more time with our children and more time to invest in the community.
I was just having a conversation with a friend this morning who she has a number of children and she works outside of the home one day a week, and now that her kids are in school, she's been debating back and forth if she should work outside of the home more days a week. And I said, I think our church really needs you. Our church really needs more people like you who are available, who have the time. She has time to disciple her kids. She has time to be available to those in the body of Christ. So we need to make sure that we are actually in investing our time well in discipling these children that God has placed in our care.
Just a few other thoughts as we wrap this time up. We need to make sure that our homes are places where social situations naturally happen. We need to make sure that we are having people over into our homes that were practicing biblical hospitality. If you haven't watched the Foundation Worldview webinar that I ran last year with Rosaria Butterfields on raising children in a home that practices biblical hospitality, highly recommend that you check that out. We need to make sure that our homes are open, that we're having people over.
Also, rather than having everybody gather around and watch a movie as a family, or rather than having everybody on their separate devices, why not have a family game night that is having people, the members of your family, actually interact with one another. I'm not saying you can never have screens or you can never have a family movie night, but think about ways to interact with one another.
Also, another thing for us to pay attention to with our children is making sure that we are guiding them well, whether they're naturally introverts or extroverts, because extroverts and introverts have just natural sin tendencies when interacting with others. So we need to pay attention for those. If we have a child that is more extroverted, the more extroverted tendency or sin pattern is to draw unnecessary attention to oneself, to always need to be the center of attention, to always need approval. And so with more extroverted children, we're going to have to really work really hard on equipping them to be quick to hear and slow to speak.
For many introverts, the temptation is more to focus on self by withdrawing from social situations. And so in those situations with children that are more introverted, we're going to need to push them to actually step outside of their comfort zone and ask others good questions and engage in conversations. But both introverts and extroverts are sinners. We all are. And so the extroverted tendency towards sin is focusing on self by gaining a lot of attention towards self. The introvert's tendency towards sin is more focused on self by withdrawing within one's self.
And then just the final thing, it's really important that we limit the amount of screen time that our kids have. I'm not saying that our kids can never be on screens. That would be very unrealistic in this culture in which we find ourselves. However, the research has found that children who engage more heavily in screens, particularly when we're talking about video games and social media, that they have most issues socially. So we need to be really careful that we're limiting the amount of time our children are on screens.
And just to put some numbers out there, I know this will probably shock a lot of people, but if our children are spending more than one hour per day on screens just for leisure time, I'm not talking about research for homework or online classes, but if our children are spending more than one hour a day on screens for the purpose of entertainment, that is really going to hinder them from learning how to love others well through interacting with them. It's also an incredible waste of time that is not helping them developmentally in any way. So we really need to think carefully about that screen time.
Well, that's a wrap for today's episode, but I'm so grateful that you join me. And as always, as we leave our time together, my prayer for you is that no matter the situation in which you and the children God has placed in your care, find yourselves that you would be able to trust that God is working all things together for your good by using those circumstances to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.
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