There is no way to overemphasize this important fact – as a parent you are your child’s first teacher. In this role there are huge responsibilities and plenty of opportunities. There are five significant ways every parent can help children improve their social skills. These include coaching, modeling, role playing, shaping the environment, and talking. By being mindful of your own interactions with your child(ren) you can help them learn to navigate social situations and improve interpersonal skills.
Be a Supportive Coach
Sometimes we relegate the need and work of coaches to the sports arena. But all of us need coaches, and parents are most certainly in the best position to be coaches and mentors for their children. Here you can take opportunities to offer encouragement in areas that are new, provide support for ongoing work, and praise efforts that show growth and development.
It is very important to find opportunities to reinforce things your child is doing well. Praise can go a long way as long as it is genuine. When you are able to show your interest in your child, that also builds the relationship for acceptance of advice or constructive feedback in other instances. Remember, it is important to understand developmental benchmarks so that you are assessing skills based upon what is normal and natural at every age, rather than expecting performance that is unrealistic.
Understand that You Are a Role Model
As a parent, you are constantly modeling skills and concepts through your actions, responses, and how you communicate with your child and others. We like to take credit when a child mimics our best behavior, but it is also important to understand children are taking it ALL in, not just the good but also the bad.
Be mindful of how you are interacting with your child and also what they are witnessing as you interact with others. Showing kindness, patience, empathy, and consideration to family members and to strangers goes a long way. We must think about the example of the Prophet Muhammed, peace and blessings be upon us, and try to emulate his guidance on daily living at every turn. Even with this goal, there are times when things will not go well. In those instances, be the first to talk about what might have been incorrect, done in haste, and could be done differently. Explaining how you make decisions and take action can also be a lasting way of teaching by example that actions have consequences.
Use Role Playing as an Effective Tool
Children act as sponges, absorbing what they see and hear around them. Role-playing can be a way to help them practice newly-learned skills. This hands-on practice in a safe environment helps to set the stage for offering feedback to increase understanding and improve social skills.
To practice role playing, identify a real-life scenario. Remember to ask questions about positive and negative outcomes. Children are very intuitive and may even surprise you with their responses. This may also be the best possible way to help your child examine an issue from an Islamic perspective. Starting these processes at a young age will help set the stage for continued dialogue and opportunities for advice as they move into adolescence.
Understand that Environment has an Impact
A child’s environment or surroundings can have a significant impact on his/her feelings and emotions. When things are going amiss, take a look at what is going on in the background. When you are trying to give attention, make sure (as best you can) that it is undivided. Turn off the television and background noise; silence your phone and avoid checking it. Giving undivided attention is a direct way of reinforcing that your child is important and worthy of your time.
Make Time to Talk with your Child
Discuss a topic that allows your child to express both thoughts and feelings. This way, you learn about his/her point of view. Talks can be great after you have read a book together. Remember, children learn at their own pace about their strengths and weaknesses. This can be enhanced as they learn about the experiences of others – and stories from books are a great tool. In this way new scenarios that are similar to your child’s experiences or totally different can help develop empathy and change social attitudes and behaviors. Books that relate our rich Islamic heritage are especially important, but so too are secular books that teach about positive characters and character traits. Reading books together may not be as common for older children, but reading newspaper articles or watching a video or television program can also prompt discussions along these same lines. Be sure in every instance to not just lead the discussion, but to also be an active listener.
We can enhance our relationships with our children today and into the future by understanding the role we play in modeling behavior, as well as creating opportunities to engage them. Make the most of both and you may be surprised at what you can learn and accomplish together!
Zahirah Lynn Eppard is Sound Vision’s Director of Religious Education