Last Updated on January 3, 2024 by Sarah McCubbin
Many families are noticing that social skills for kids and teens are a key ingredient to success. Whether student are in school or homeschooled, connecting with people is part of life. If your child wants more friends, here are some social skills that can make that happen more easily.
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As a parent, I want my kids to be respectful, kind, well-mannered, and engaged. But, if I’m honest, what my kids want most during the school years is to have friends and to feel included.
Social Anxiety is the #1 Problem For Kids Struggling to Make Friends
If you are a member of any kind of online parenting group, the #1 topic parents talk about is the anxiety their children feel…especially when they are in school. Of course, not all kids feel this way but it is very, very common. And with that anxiety comes a whole bunch of negative coping mechanisms that still don’t lead to having friends.
I felt it too when I was younger. In fact, I never had more than a few friends at a time. I was terrible at making friends and even worse at keeping them. God bless the ones that stuck with me! Honestly, I had the worst social skills in middle school and into high school. I just didn’t get people. As a result, I was sensitive and easily became overwhelmed and frustrated. I did not have many friends because I did not know how to be a good friend.
So how can we help our kid have genuine friends? There is an assumption that we just know how to make friends if we are around people. Of course, this is silly. We teach our kids how to tie their shoes, add 2+2 and read short vowel sounds. We should definitely expect to teach them how to have good conversations, behave in a group of friends and how to apologize when they make a mistake. Social skills NEED to be taught!
The list of social skills is never-ending really, but there are some good basic ones that will help our kids take those first steps toward making and keeping friends. Here is a great TEDX video on emotional intelligence from a teen perspective which explains some of the struggles from the teen perspective!
Table of Contents
Socials Skills For Kids and Teens
1. Be Curious about other people, their interests and their lives
In order to connect with other people, it is essential that we have curiosity about them as people. It is easy to become focussed on how other people think about us so much that it can paralyze us.
Instead of thinking about the person in front of us, our minds are saying:
- What if I say that wrong?
- Oh man…my shirt has a stain on it.
- I wish I had nicer clothes
- I wish I could talk better.
- I wish…
This kind of self-focus will almost always make us feel small. None of us are perfect and we all have flaws. When we focus on that, it prevents us from focusing on other people.
Curiosity will say instead:
- I wonder what they like to do for fun.
- I wonder what they are good at.
- I wonder how they are doing.
- I wonder what they are NOT good at.
- I wonder if they worry about what people think about them.
- How can I encourage them?
- How can I make their day better for one minute?
2. Ask Good Questions
Asking good questions naturally makes conversations so much easier…even with complete strangers. After all, people LIKE to talk about THEMSELVES! So, if you keep asking questions, people keep talking. People will think you are interesting if you ask good questions, and they will know you are a good listener! These are the hallmarks of a good friend!
3. Be FUN!
Ok, this sounds dumb, but it’s really hard to hang out with someone who won’t try new things or laugh at themselves. I wish I could go back and tell my 12-year-old self that it is ok to look silly, make mistakes, and laugh at myself. People love it when we are self-deprecating! As a parent, you can support FUN by providing social opportunities.
Be the one to organize a bonfire, birthday party, or social outing. And be the parent that initiates connections with other parents too. Grab the school or class directory and send an email or text to the parents in your child’s grade and organize activities that include all the students…or at the very least…all the girls or all the boys.
4. DO NOT Get Offended
Yes! This is a social skill! In a world with all kinds of beliefs and opinions, people are bound to say something that we don’t agree with. People usually aren’t directing their thoughts and opinions at a specific person who is present…but maybe the comment strikes close to home. It happens.
We can teach our kids how to respond generously when someone says something they don’t agree with. As I’m cringing in the background, I’ve heard my own kids respond to another child with…. “You are WRONG! My mom says, XYZ!”
We all want to be RIGHT so that sentiment is something we all feel. But when building friendships and establishing rapport, I have a stash of responses that I like to teach my kids.
If someone says something you don’t agree with, don’t assume they are attacking you. Instead, I like to say, “Oh, that is interesting. I”m not sure I agree with that, but it is interesting.” Or, I might say, “How did you come to believe XYZ?” These are just a couple of ways that encourage the conversation without AGREEING to everything.
5. Have Self Awareness
This is an indirect social skill. If we teach our kids to do a personal inventory with their basic senses, they will observe the way they themselves sound, smell and look. After talking about friendship in this light, a kid who doesn’t like to bathe may realize….”Oh yeah, people might not like to be around me if I stink.” Any number of personal habits can be analyzed this way. I’ve asked my kids, “Do you like it when someone ____________________?” Fill in the blank….chews loudly, calls you names, has bad breath, is whiney, etc
By looking at others, kids will more easily see their own habits that need to be changed. And as a parent, you can make that even better when they realize it by taking them shopping or supporting their realizations another way.
6. Pay Attention to How Others React to You
Observation and self-awareness are also important social skills for kids and teens. If kids are around others and everything seems fine…and then suddenly everyone walks away, then there might be a reason. Sometimes kids have strong personalities and when they are expressive, they have NO IDEA how it is being received by others.
I have always liked to give my HONEST…way TOO HONEST opinion when I’m asked about something. I’ll give it even if I”m not asked…haha! People should appreciate that RIGHT? For a long time, I would notice TOO LATE that people were worn out by my rants. But as I started learning social skills, I started observing some common reactions to my honesty.
If I was being a little too obnoxious, I would notice RAISED EYEBROWS.
That was my Q to stop talking or change the topic. Or if I was really into a topic and the other person wasn’t, they might say, “Uh huh, yes, uh huh” as their eyes glazed over and they stared into the distance. Again….time to change the topic. Part of being a good friend is reading people and not pushing them past their own interest in a topic.
7. Be Genuinely Kind To Others
Look for ways to do nice things for other people. Parents can help their kids practice giving compliments that are genuine and not weird! They can also help them practice writing thank you notes and giving thoughtful small gifts.
8. Look out for the Underdog!
Oftentimes, when our kids want to make friends, they want to make friends with the popular kids. And that is fine…but the mark of a true friend is someone who cares about the outsider or the person who is lonely.
Teach your kids to see the kids who are alone and invite them to join another group of kids. Or teach them to sit with the new kid (or the odd one!!) and ask good interesting questions.
They may find that their friends come in unlikely places simply because they are kind to EVERYONE and care about people.
9. Take Initiative! If you want to make friends, don’t wait for people to come talk to you.
Go find someone sitting alone and start asking good questions! This connects to the idea of curiosity mentioned earlier. When we are curious about other people, we can initiate steps to connect with them…to talk and ask questions.
If we are completely focused on ourselves, we wait for someone to notice us…which might mean we wait awhile.
10. Find People With Similar Interests
Schools often have all kinds of clubs. Joining a group of similarly-minded kids is a great way to make friends. It is so much easier if you have common interests. If your interest is not represented, take initiative and start a group. Schools are often willing to allow new clubs to form if a parent is willing to lead.
In the homeschool community, families are always looking for ways to connect their kids. Using local homeschool Facebook groups is a great way to find other families with kids who are the same age and have the same interests.
11. Jobs Are a Great Way to Build Social Skills
For our teens, we have found that getting a job is an amazing way for them to learn and practice social skills that are relevant to the “real world.”
Jobs allow you to practice the same conversation over and over. Whether that is daily interactions with boss or regular interactions with customers, the conversations often repeat. This can allow teens to become more comfortable.
In addition, jobs allow teens to work alongside people. There are no uncomfortable silences when your hands are busy. Conversation can ebb and flow easier than a face-to-face conversation.
12. Don’t Try to Be Friends With Everyone
A mistake that many people make is trying too hard to be friends with anyone and everyone who will be their friend. While it is hard to have no friends, having fake friends is worse. Part of learning how to be a good friend should be learning which kind of people are NOT GOOD FRIENDS.
If you observe these characteristics in a person, it be a reason to reevaluate your friendship:
No one is perfect, but when people have patterns of negative behavior, that can be a good sign that they aren’t someone we want to spend a lot of time with.
Teach Social Skills for Kids and Teens as a Part of Daily Life
Teaching social skills does not have to be time-consuming or difficult. As parents, we have a wealth of experience to draw from. I like to use the following to talk about social skills with my kids:
- My own mistakes and embarrassing moments
- Social quirks in others -my kids are much more likely to notice the (bad) social skills of other kids and want to talk about it…so we do and use it as a teaching tool for self-reflection on their own social skills
- Characters in movies who make mistakes
- Hard moments in life when my kids are tempted to have self-pity instead of resilience
- Stories in the news
Cell Phones Can Be a Part of Healthy Social Interactions
As a family with some kids who are homeschooled…and some who are in school, we have realized the importance of healthy friendships for our kids. With 9 kids, we are limited in how often we can arrange to hang out with different friend groups, so having a safe cell phone option was something we wanted.
When our oldest was 14, we offered him a flip phone. He was NOT excited about that option. We got it for him, but he only used it when ABSOLUTELY necessary to contact us. A couple of years later, he got a “real” phone and was happy to have that improved functionality!
But now with 3 middle school-aged sons, we wanted them to have the social interactions without a steady diet of junk on the internet. I was SO EXCITED when I found GABB Wireless. They provide smartphones which only offer texting and calling….no internet, no apps, no social media.
For an extra monthly fee it can have a music subscription as well. It lets them stay in touch with friends without always swiping my phone. I encourage you to check out GABB phones. Our kids have loved the extra freedom and I love that they get to talk to friends…and I can get ahold of them when they are away from home!
Social Skills Develop Personal Awareness & Empathy!
The benefit of teaching social skills for kids and teens is that our kids develop personal awareness and empathy. When they realize that everyone is on a journey, it is easier to be kind and curious. If our kids believe that others are interesting (instead of weird), they will seek out the underdog, try new things, and laugh at themselves when things go wrong.
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Sarah McCubbin, founder of Ten Minute Momentum, is dedicated to helping parents confidently parent their kids by teaching life skills, social skills and leadership skills. As a child she was the kid that never quite fit in and is on a mission to help others understand the building blocks we all need to be successful adults. She lives in Ohio with her husband Mike, and 9 kids ranging in age from 5 to 21 where they use homeschool, private school and public schools for their kids education!