Development of Social Skills

What are Social Skills?

Social Skills and Ability to Correspond with Other People

What are social Skills? There is no concrete definition of this term even among psychologists. I once asked this question to a university student and he replied, "To be aware of the atmosphere". I thought it was a brilliant answer.

So how can we be aware of the atmosphere? It is through the general feel coming from the whole body of the company. For example, their posture and direction of the body give us signs. The words "forward" and "backward" imply personal character and attitude, and the direction one's body is physically facing also influences the atmosphere. If you talk to a person who keeps his/her back to you, you wouldn't want to keep talking to that person. On the contrary, if he/she faces up and looks closely into your face, you would want to talk more, or you would think that he/she has something to tell you.

Facial expression also changes the atmosphere, and so does tone of the voice. A Friendly smile will draw out our own smile, but frowning eyes or a grumpy voice will encourage us to finish the conversation as soon as possible.

These signs all come from other people. We pay attention to others, look carefully, feel them well, read the signs and judge the atmosphere. People react in various ways even in a similar situation. Sometimes we are surprised by a completely different reaction to the scene that we thought we experienced before. We develop our social skills by continuously watching others and judging the situation. If we stop corresponding with others, we wouldn't need to read signs anymore.

Social Skills and Language Development

There is a close connection between social skills and language development. Here, "language" means the ability to understand rather than just simple words for chattering. Or, I should say "language" has wider meanings than literal words and is the ability of receiving the message from others. As I said above, it is the ability of recognizing what others want to tell by reading the atmosphere. If a child is not capable of this or not developed enough in this area, development of the social skills would be impaired as well.

Some would think if a child doesn't have any problem in language, he/she would be fine in any social situation. However, the reality is that there are many children who don't seem to have a language development problem but have trouble in social skills. Here is an example of a boy who has difficulties in reading vague message from others.

A Boy who cannot understand vague message from the others

The boy called Atsushi is in forth grade in elementary school. He doesn't have great problem in his intelligence, but he is not well balanced in his intellectual development and his language development has been slow since he was little. He is quite clumsy in his body movement and finger manipulation.

One day, when he was changing clothes, I asked him "Tuck in the hem of your shirt nicely, OK?". He tried to do it by touching the collar. So I said, "The hem is here, down there." and pointed the area. I was pointing around the seam, and he glanced at it and said, "Do you mean seam?" to confirm what he understood. I said, "No, I don't mean seam. The hem is AROUND HERE", and pointed towards the general area of the hem. I also showed him my cotton jersey and told him, "Around here is called "hem". Look, there is no seams, right?". I also asked him questions such as "So, where is the hem of this girl's clothes?". I asked him a couple of times, and finally he seemed to understand the abstract idea of the "hem".

As you can see, if I tried to define "hem" by showing a concrete position, it could be misunderstood as the seam, as Atsushi first thought. However, the hem is an abstract idea, and we can only teach it as "the area like this".

When children find out the commonness between the examples presented, they will go "Ah-ha!" and truly "understand". However, if we try to teach them "This is the hem", children tend to remember the specific place in the specific clothes. From this experience, I learned that when we teach children abstract matters, it is important that we adults show them some examples and let them find the commonness by themselves.

From the monthly journal "The Developmental Education"
Mamiko Hitotsumatsu, Speech-Language-Hearing Therapist
The Association of Remedial Teaching for People with Developmental Handicaps

In the Case that Child Understands "No" but does not stop misbehaving.