There are many desired social skills that we need to teach our children in order for them to function well in society. These skills are often dependent on the situation and the person with whom one interacts. For example, children may greet each other one way when they meet each other on their skateboards in the street, and in another way if they meet in a crowd of adults at church. Similarly, greeting a friend is different to greeting someone we hardly know. The result is an great variety to the basic skills. Coping with this variety requires understanding and experience which only comes in time, but it is possible to establish good habits by rule and principle until that time comes:
Be an example and provide other role models. There is no stronger way to reinforce a rule than to live it ourselves, consistently. Our example will be enhanced if our children are in the company of friends, family and church members who reinforce it.
Teach from God’s Word. The family is a God-given unit within which to practise social skills and his Word abounds with social skill instruction. The desired outworking of our faith is a Christ-like relationship with others, so the Bible is not short of details on how we should relate to others. God, through his Word, teaches us to be kind, forgiving, hospitable, thoughtful, generous, loving, hard-working, honest and trustworthy. Proverbs, in particular, gives specific social skill instruction. Daily Bible reading and verse memorization will help to establish firmly in our children’s minds how God requires them to behave towards others.
Discuss the rules. Every rule has a biblical principle and/or a practical reason that needs to be explained. Understanding helps children internalize the rule, making it easier to apply in other situations.
Provide the opportunity for children to practise the required behaviour. Skills can be practised initially within the home, either as the situation arises or we can set up practise situations. Other opportunities for practise will arise when we go visiting, shopping or on outings, when we are at church, support group meetings or extra-murals. Note that in these situations they are practising their skills in the “real world”, not just in the classroom.
Correct, praise and encourage. To start with, it may be difficult for a child to master a skill, so remember to praise effort instead of only achievement. Correct and discipline when necessary.
Supervise interactions. Even playmates from “good” homes may not yet be mature enough to be a good example to our children. Be in a position to see and hear what is going so that you can nip undesirable behaviour in the bud.
Choose companions wisely. “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” 1 Corinthians 15:33. While we may be friendly to all, we should choose our children’s close friends with care. Encourage older children to cultivate uplifting friendships.
Limit activities outside the home. In order to prove that our children are well socialized, we often go overboard with extra-murals and social opportunities outside the home. Our children are often better behaved with others than they are with their siblings. What good is it if they are good on the outside but filthy within? Be careful not to get too involved with outside activities at the expense of your family life. Teach your children to treat their siblings well and to be friends with each other. The effects will spill over to others too.
Teach them to protect themselves. The above 3 points may be considered “over-protecting” and “sheltering” our children. We will obviously not always be able to protect our children from unpleasant or dangerous encounters. Our children need to be aware of potential harm, so we need to tell them of some of the evils of this world. Rather they hear it from loving parents than encounter it themselves with no prior knowledge of it.
Effective socialization requires more attention from caring adults than is often available in institutions. Because we spend a lot of time with our children, we are in a position to give them continuous positive and loving responses. This will give them a sense of security and confidence that will have a positive impact on the way they respond to others. We have the time and opportunity to impart much to our children. They will be adequately socialized at home!