This pandemic has taken a toll on our kids. The social isolation over the past year has led to a significant loss of social skills, and this is on top of an already existing preference for playing and socializing using screens. The combination of these two factors has left our kids at a disadvantage.
The basis of social skills may seem self-explanatory but in fact, they are complex and require practice to learn and integrate, especially after we have encountered unprecedented circumstances like this global pandemic. Social skills, by definition, are the skills we use to communicate and interact with each other, both verbally and non-verbally through gestures, body language, and our personal appearance. It is easy to see how prolonged isolation combined with screen addiction (or even just preference) can throw off these skills. Not to mention, kids are now returning to school under different conditions this year than how they remember socializing with their peers prior. There are many new rules in place that challenge their ability to relax in social situations. The result is that many kids are less comfortable these days in social interactions and this discomfort is apparent in both virtual and in-person interactions.
First, let’s break down the importance of social skills. Social skills are crucial for the development of our kids. These skills are the building blocks for social interaction. Social skills are the basis of communication and communication is the basis of all friendships. Research has clearly outlined that people with better social skills are more confident, happier, and successful than their peers who struggle socially.
A well-known 20-year study followed kindergarteners throughout their development. Researchers found that social skills played a huge role in their educational and work-related successes as adults. In fact, social skills “predicted” children’s future success: the children with better social skills were twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood; 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma; and 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25 (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, July 2015). This comes as no surprise since these skills are so critical in relationship building which is in turn related to overall confidence and happiness.
Social skills don’t always come naturally. While some kids pick them up through observational learning, other kids need to be taught them more formally. After a year of social distancing and isolation, even the children that were previously competent socially are now exhibiting some social anxiety and awkwardness, and understandably so. The good news is that social skills are all teachable. We can teach our children through credible programs that emphasize modeling, role-playing and repeated practice, utilizing games and writing prompts among other interventions. Utilizing the presence of other peers with a trained facilitator, children get a chance to learn and immediately implement the use of the new social skills, allowing them to integrate those skills into their social repertoire and subsequently generalize them to their natural environment.