Friendships and social skills

Friends forever ... Developing your child's social skills is a lifetime investment.
Friends forever ... Developing your child's social skills is a lifetime investment. 

Social skills are one of the most important skill sets that develop throughout childhood and adolescence. They are specific behaviours such as smiling, making eye contact, asking and responding to questions, initiating conversation or play as well as giving and acknowledging compliments during a social exchange. These skills influence positive social and developmental outcomes, and also lay the foundation for future academic success, autonomy, interpersonal relationships, emotional awareness, and resilience.

Recent studies have shown that certain social skills; such as self control, cooperation, empathy and assertiveness influence positive classroom behaviour. Researchers argue that because these skills promote a child’s ability to complete tasks and work independently they influence their ability to learn and contribute to better relationships with teachers  and peers. The research also suggests that social skills contribute to academic success.

How can I tell whether my child needs help developing their social skills?

  • Avoids social activities/school
  • Displays inappropriate responses to verbal and nonverbal cues
  • Has difficulty initiating/maintaining social interactions
  • Has difficulty making and maintaining friendships
  • Seems disinterested in social interactions
  • Uses little eye contact

How can I help develop my child’s social skills?

One of the most effective ways you can help develop your child’s social skills is by modelling appropriate social behaviours ...

One of the most effective ways you can help develop your child’s social skills is by modelling appropriate social behaviours, providing opportunities for positive socialisations and by offering opportunities for your child to discuss their concerns with you.

  • Model positive social behaviour (e.g. greet shop assistants, be attentive during conversation, ask and respond to questions)
  • Offer suggestions on how to manage situations with peers
  • Provide opportunities for positive social engagement: Arrange playdates for your child. Enrol your child into structured social activities (e.g. drama class, a sport, art class, scouts, etc)
  • Promote your child’s autonomy and independence
  • Discuss issues such as teasing, bullying and exclusion with your child and brainstorm ideas to manage these situations with them.
  • Encourage and help your child develop the two components of learning-related social skills: interpersonal skills - such as positive peer interaction, sharing and respecting other children. Work related skills - such as listening, following directions, appropriate group participation, staying on task and organisation.

Another important issue to remember is that some social deficits, such as significant language and communication delays, atypical or ritualistic play, and persistent worries about attending school and social events may also be a sign that your child suffers from social anxiety or  a developmental disorder. If this is the case, it is important to discuss your concerns with a GP or psychologist.

How can schools help with social skills?


Social issues commonly arise in primary and secondary school for different reasons. New students take time to settle; established students often report difficulties within their friendship groups in terms of peer dynamics or resolving conflict with other same-aged peers. Referrals to the school counsellor or local private psychologist typically occur when parents are concerned about their child’s ability to make and maintain friendships.

Schools can help students to develop social skills through activities designed to encourage listening skills, empathy and understanding. Effective activities for teachers to boost social skills include “Tell Me A Story” (6-12 years) and “The Likes of Youth” (9-16 years). Similarly, “Circle Time” is a regular meeting among students in the classroom setting on a daily or weekly basis. Students and teachers commonly experience positive outcomes with specialized program and resources when students have the opportunity to regularly practice pro-social behaviour.

Recommended Resources:

There are useful books for children aged 4-8 years to develop social skills such as the How to be a Friend: A guide to making and keeping friends. For children aged 7 to 12 years consider  Learning About Friendship and The Social Skills Menu.

Programs and workshops such as Quirky Kid Clinic’s ‘The Best of Friends’ are a great way to practice and develop social skill in a small group or large school setting.

Information provided by the Quirky Kid child psychology clinic. Find out more about developing social skills at the Quirky Kid website.