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What Are Social Skills? - Competencies, Development & Examples

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson looks at what social skills are and how they are developed in children. A discussion of the types of competencies that parents and teachers can focus on leads to examples of social skills in another section.

A Winning Personality

When Wes ran out onto the playground, he was usually followed closely by at least five of his peers. After the recess bell sounded, many of the children would scatter to different games, but Wes always had an entourage (followers). Other children just wanted to be around him. As an individual, Wes was outgoing, spontaneous, and always positive. His teachers liked him, and other students flocked to him. Wes had a personality that generated social interest, and he had learned to use his personality to influence others. He had learned social skills from watching his parents and other adults and had picked up their mannerisms.

Social Skills

Social interaction is a fact of life. Whether it be between peers in a school setting, on the job, at home among family, or walking down the street on a bright spring morning, people engage in exchanges with one another. Social skills are the ability to interact interpersonally with self-discipline, along with the ability to solve such interpersonal issues as may arise. These skills are essential to successful development and cooperation.

How Do Social Skills Develop?

Every child is born with the genetic coding that tells who they are going to be. However, this basis of personality (the essence of who an individual is separate from everyone else) has to be developed and filled out as the person grows. An infant exhibits personality traits in the way they interact with other people and their environment, but that infant personality is not yet fully developed. What the child sees, what they are taught, and how they begin to perceive the world, all serve to enlarge their personality and frame it.

Many different theories and instruments attempt to codify personality so that people can determine who they are. One theory determines personality based on five traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness. Everyone has some amount of each of the five traits, but some traits dominate the others. A person who is conscientious (self-disciplined and dutiful) by nature will develop social skills more easily than someone who is naturally neurotic (anxious and vulnerable).

However, personality is not the primary determinant of social skills. Most people are successful socially because they were taught to be.

Social Skill Competencies

Parents teach social skills in the way they interact with each other and those around them. They (parents) along with teachers also help children learn social skills by helping them understand and practice certain competencies (abilities) such as:

  • Recognition - Children learn how to decipher what they are feeling and thinking.
  • Regulation - Children need to learn not only how to recognize what they are thinking and feeling, but they also need to learn how to control emotions and thoughts.
  • Empathy - Empathy is the ability to understand how someone else is feeling and then to share their perspective of events.
  • Relationship building - This competency includes such things as learning how to share, how to speak to others, and how to help other people.
  • Ethics and problem-solving - This is the ability to understand how to get out of a difficult situation without resorting to cheating, lying, or stealing, and understanding why that matters.

These abilities may be somewhat innate for some personality types, but, in general, they are learned behaviors.

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