Social skills in childhood: what are they and how can they be developed?

In recent times, there has been a growing awareness of the importance placed on the acquisition of adaptive social skills in the early years of human life.

Generically, it has been possible to demonstrate how this type of ability conditions future functioning both socially and psychologically of an individual. You could say that influence is limited to all vital areas of the person: professional, academic, interpersonal and personal.

The concept of social skills

Horse in 1986 defined the concept of social skills as the set of behaviors performed by an individual in an interpersonal context in which he expresses feelings, attitudes, Desires, opinions, or rights in a way that is appropriate to the situation, respecting those behaviors in others, and where it usually resolves immediate problems in the situation while reducing the likelihood of future problems arising.

There are many specific behaviors that can be included under the category of social skills. A simple classification differentiates two main areas: verbal behavior and non-verbal behavior. Each of these categories includes different more specific dimensions

Non-verbal behaviors: gestures, tics, poses …

Regarding the non-verbal aspects of communication, the following variables can be assessed: facial expression (which indicates the level of interest and / or understanding of the message transmitted by the interlocutor), gaze (useful in posture expression (describes posture (describes own attitudes, emotional state and feelings and those of others), gestures (increases or replaces the meaning of the message conveyed), closeness and physical contact (both reflect type relationship and the link between interlocutors – Approach or distance -), vocal touches (tone and volume, speed, pauses, fluidity, etc. modulate the meaning of the verbal message expressed) and personal appearance ( offers information about its own interests and affinities) become the main ones.

Verbal behavior: what we express through language

On the other hand, verbal behavior is used to communicate both cognitive aspects (such as thoughts, reflections, opinions or ideas) and emotions or feelings. It also makes it possible to report on past events, to request information, to justify an opinion, etc.

In this type of behavior, it is relevant to consider the influence of factors linked to the situation in which the message intervenes on the characteristics of the interlocutors, as well as on the objectives to be achieved with this information. A fundamental condition for the success of the communication process is the need for the sender and the recipient to share the code (the language) through which this verbal behavior takes place.

Acquiring social skills in early childhood

More explicitly, learning social skills is much more important in the early years of life because it is during kindergarten and primary school that the processes of socialization of children begin.

These first social experiences will condition the child’s relations with his parents and other relatives, couples and other characters more or less distant from his social environment. In order to achieve an adequate process of growth and emotional and cognitive development, it is essential that the child acquires behavioral guidelines that allow him to achieve goals both on a personal level (self-esteem, autonomy, decision-making and adaptation capacity) and interpersonal level (establishment of healthy friendly, romantic, family, professional relationships, coexistence in society, etc.).

Another reason for emphasizing the importance of devoting part of the education specifically to improving social skills at an early stage is the widespread and traditional misconception that these skills are automatically assimilated over time. Because of this belief, it becomes less important to focus on this type of learning. and, consequently, the child ends up not internalizing these aspects so relevant for its development.

Finally, knowing how to be competent in the field of social skills allows the child to assimilate more deeply and completely other types of capacities such as intellectual or cognitive.

What are the reasons for children’s social skills deficits?

A behavioral deficit in the management of social skills can be due to the following causes:

  • Lack of skills in general: Motivated by the absence of its acquisition or by the expression of inappropriate social behavior.
  • Conditioned Anxiety: Faced with past aversive experiences or due to observational learning through an inadequate model, the person may exhibit a high level of anxiety that prevents them from giving this adaptive response.
  • Poor cognitive assessment: When the individual presents a negative self-concept combined with a pessimistic cognitive functioning, he may avoid performing certain actions because he questions his own competence in such a situation. In order to avoid the discomfort caused by this self-assessment, the child will avoid emitting these behaviors.
  • Lack of motivation to act: If the immediate consequence of the performance of appropriate social behavior does not occur or is neutral for the individual, that behavior will lose its reinforcing value and cease to emit.
  • The subject does not know discriminationa: faced with ignorance of the affirmative rights that everyone should have, they cannot differentiate whether or not these rights are violated in a given situation. Therefore, it will not issue this socially competent and assertive action.
  • Restrictive environmental barriers: If the environment prevents them from openly manifesting appropriate social behaviors, these will tend not to occur in that context (especially in authoritarian, controlling and non-affective family environments).

The adult as a model for learning social skills in children

As indicated by the learning theories of Bandura and other experts, two are the key elements of the learning process.

The first factor refers to the type of consequences and their temporary contingency after the emission of a particular behavior. When a behavior is followed by a pleasant consequence, the behavior tends to increase in frequency, whereas in the case where the consequence on the behavior is unpleasant and contingent, the tendency will be to decrease or eliminate it. behaviour.

The second variable refers to the reproduction of behaviors from the observation of behavioral models or referents.

As these are the main sources that motivate behavioral learning, the nature of attitudes and cognitive-behavioral typology of adults in training is highly relevant. These figures are responsible for applying certain consequences to the behaviors expressed by children. and represent the role models that will serve as a reference in the performance of behaviors by children.

Educational keys in the field of social skills

For all this, it must be borne in mind that, both in the first case and in the second, their practices must be appropriate so that the child learns a competent and satisfactory behavioral repertoire. Specifically, four are the basic attitudes that adults must exhibit in order to achieve the stated goal:

  • Provide a suitable model: The figure of the model to execute at any time adapted behavioral repertoires, because if the little one observes differences of behavior according to the situation or the interlocutor will not be able to internalize correctly what must apply, where and how. Else On the other hand, it should be noted that children are also likely to copy the maladaptive behaviors observed in the models if they practice them regularly in the real context. Referees must demonstrate competence in expressing their own opinions and feelings, formulating requests, reaffirming them from their point of view and rejecting inappropriate verbalizations in a fair and respectful manner.
  • Evaluate the positive aspects: As discussed above, because appropriate behavior of the store to increase its frequency is essential to reward the issuer of such an action with a positive and contingent consequence over time. Numerous studies show that positive reinforcement is the most effective methodology of the four principles of operant conditioning (positive / negative reinforcement and positive / negative punishment), to a greater extent than criticism or threat of inappropriate behavior. An equally relevant aspect is to offer the child the possibility of independently performing the behaviors deemed appropriate, including the initial moments when this action is not completely performed correctly. Repeated practice will bring about improvement in behavior, so it is not advisable for the model to deprive the child of this independent practice.
  • Faccelerate in divergent thinking training: Teaching as a habit the idea that there is not, in many cases, a single solution to a given problem can facilitate the establishment and development of creative capacity, as well as the promotion of adaptation. active in the face of adversity or possible events over.
  • Provide opportunities to facilitate HS practice: The more varied the situations in which the child must evolve, the more competition he will have in the face of a greater number of social situations. An intrinsic characteristic of social situations is their spontaneity, which will make it easier for the child to start, moreover, the process of divergent reasoning indicated above.

some conclusions

In conclusion, it can be taken from the above the infantile stage must be understood as a very sensitive period for the acquisition of most of the learning.

HHSS become a series of foundational skills that can be placed at the same level (and even at a higher level) as other more instrumental learning such as language skills or mathematics, as individual development and emotional – relational stability of a person in later life stages will result from the consolidation of a repertoire of adaptive social skills during the initial periods.

Learning theories show the extent to which teaching is imparted by observing and imitating patterns. In accordance with this premise, debe underline the fundamental role of the main socializing figures during childhood: Parents and educators. Therefore, both parties must have sufficient and adequate resources to exercise positive and beneficial modeling on the grantee during its maturing growth.

Bibliographical references:

  • Bandura, A. (1999a). A cognitive social theory of personality. In L. Pervin and O. John (eds), Handbook of Personality (2nd ed., P. 154-196). New York: Guilford.
  • Cavall, V. (1993): Handbook of Behavior Therapy and Modification Techniques. Madrid: 21st century.
  • Cavall, V. (1983). Social skills training and assessment manual. Madrid: 21st century.

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