Cultivate Social Skills

by Dr. Patricia M. McCormack, IHM

An old adage advised: Remember, child, and bear in mind / that a faithful friend is hard to find.

An old adage advised: Remember, child, and bear in mind / that a faithful friend is hard to find. So when you’ve found one just and true / don’t change the old one for the new.”

Since having friends and being accepted is a core life-issue, teach children the value of another maxim: “To have a friend you must be a friend.” Being a friend means actively taking time to learn what interests another, to express support, and to ask questions that focus on the other person. Friendship is more about giving than getting and more about becoming a good listener and encourager than receiving attention.

Consider the following suggestions as road signs on the path to friendship.

Create occasions to teach affective-emotional skills.
We “ready” children for friendship in the same way that we teach them to read: (1) We speak the vocabulary of affective-emotional behavior. (2) We define the vocabulary in age-appropriate ways. (3) We give examples. (4) We read about the skill in a story, or we name the skill-behavior when it appears in a movie, cartoon, or real life. Core affective-emotional skills are:

• Empathy—identify with the pain of another
• Compassion—do something to relieve the suffering of another
• Sacrifice—deny self for the sake of another
• Appreciation—express gratitude for the efforts of another
• Sharing—give of yourself, talents, and possessions to another
• Sympathy—show reverence for the grief of another
• Sorrow—express remorse/responsibility with the intention to change

Teach inclusivity, sensitivity, and discretion.
Abide by the school/class policy regarding off-site birthday parties, Christmas gifts, Valentine cards, etc. If no policy exists, go by the code: “How would I feel if I was excluded from social activities?” Safeguard the feelings of others.

Cultivate the disposition of gospel love.
Distinguish between love and like. We may not like everyone we meet, but Jesus calls us to demonstrate respect, courtesy, helpfulness, inclusion, forgiveness, fairness, and justice to all people.

Role-play skills of social initiative.
These skills include smiling, making eye contact, addressing others by name, introducing self and/or others, apologizing (when appropriate), giving compliments, accepting compliments graciously, waiting until speakers are finished before adding to the conversation, and being a reflective listener.

Strengthen the capacity for self-control.
“Me, myself, and I” is a natural disposition. It takes an act of will to discipline yourself to allow another person to “be first.” We develop the skill of self-control by taking turns, inviting others to go first in an activity, giving “first choice” of objects or food to others, and delaying gratification.

Develop an “A+ approach” in social situations.
Avoid negativity (complaining, whining, criticizing, or being a “naysayer”). Appreciate the efforts of others. Affirm whatever positive is present. Acknowledge the rights and feelings of others. Assume that others have good intentions. Admit when you need help. Apologize when you make a mistake.


Source: Today’s Catholic Teacher, January/February 2015