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Social skills in childhood: what are they and how to develop them?

Social skills in childhood: what are they and how to develop them?

May 6, 2021

In recent times there has been a greater awareness of the importance attributed to the acquisition of adaptive social skills during the first years of life of the human being.

In a generic way, it has been possible to demonstrate how this type of skills conditions the future functioning both socially and psychologically of an individual. It could be said that the influence is limited to all the vital areas of the person: professional, academic, interpersonal and personal.

The concept of social skills

Caballo in 1986 defines the concept of social skills as the set of behaviors performed by an individual in an interpersonal context in which he expresses feelings, attitudes , wishes, opinions or rights in a way appropriate to the situation, respecting those behaviors in others, and where usually resolves the immediate problems of the situation while reducing the likelihood of future problems appear.


Multiple concrete behaviors are susceptible to be included within the category of social skills. A simple classification differentiates two main areas: verbal behavior and nonverbal behavior . Each of these categories consists of different, more concrete dimensions

Non-verbal behavior: gestures, tics, gestures ...

Regarding the non-verbal aspects of the communication, the following variables can be assessed: the facial expression (which indicates the level of interest and / or understanding of the message that the speaker transmits to us), the look (useful in the expression of emotions) , the posture (describes the attitude, emotional state and own and other people's feelings), gestures (increase or substitute the meaning of the transmitted message), proximity and physical contact (both reflect the type of relationship and link between the interlocutors -approximation or distance-), the vocal keys (both tone and volume, speed, pauses, fluency, etc. modulate the meaning of the verbal message expressed) and personal appearance (offers information about interests and own affinities) become the main.


Verbal behavior: what we express through language

On the other hand, verbal behavior is used to communicate cognitive aspects (such as thoughts, reflections, opinions or ideas) as well as emotions or feelings. It also allows to report past events, demand information, justify an opinion, etc.

In this type of behavior, it is relevant to consider the influence exerted by the factors related to the situation in which the message is produced on the characteristics of the interlocutors, as well as on the objectives to be achieved with said information. A fundamental requirement for the success of the communication process lies in the need for the sender and receiver to share the code (the language) through which this verbal behavior is carried out.

Learning social skills in early childhood

More explicitly, the learning of social skills is noticeably more important in the first years of life because it is during the preschool stage and primary schooling when the processes of child socialization begin.


These first social experiences will condition the way in which the child will relate to their parents and other relatives, peers and other figures more or less removed from their social environment. In order to achieve a process of adequate emotional and cognitive growth and development, it is essential that the child acquires behavioral patterns that allow him to achieve the goals both at the personal level (self-esteem, autonomy, decision-making capacity and coping) and at the interpersonal level ( establishment of friendly, romantic, family, professional, healthy relationships in society, etc.).

Another reason that motivates to emphasize the importance of specifically assigning a part of the teachings to enhance social skills in the early stages is the erroneous and traditional widespread conception of considering that this type of skills are automatically assimilated with the passing of the weather. As a consequence of this belief it is less important to emphasize this type of learning and, consequently, the child ends up not internalizing these aspects that are so relevant to their development.

Finally, the fact of being competent in the area of ​​social skills allows the child the ability to assimilate more profoundly and completely another type of abilities such as intellectual or cognitive as.

What are the deficits of children's social skills?

A behavioral deficit in the management of social skills may be due to the following causes:

  • General skills deficit : motivated by the absence of their acquisition or by the expression of inappropriate social behavior.
  • Conditioned anxiety: in the face of past aversive experiences or due to observational learning through an inappropriate model, the person may have a high level of anxiety that prevents them from giving that adaptive response.
  • Poor cognitive evaluation When the individual presents a negative self-concept combined with a pessimistic cognitive functioning, he can avoid performing certain actions because he questions his own competence in such a situation. In order to avoid the discomfort produced by this self-assessment, the child will avoid emitting such behaviors.
  • Lack of motivation to act If the consequence followed to the performance of an appropriate social behavior does not occur or presents a neutral character for the individual, this behavior will lose its reinforcing value and cease to be issued.
  • The subject does not know how to discriminate r: in the face of ignorance of the assertive rights that every person must have, this can not differentiate whether or not such rights are being violated in a given situation. Therefore, it will not emit that socially competent and assertive action.
  • Restrictive environmental hurdles If the environment makes it difficult to openly manifest appropriate social behaviors, these will tend not to occur in such a context (especially in authoritarian, controlling and non-affective family environments).

The adult as a model for learning social skills of children

As explained by Bandura's Learning Theories and other experts, two are the fundamental elements for the learning process to take place .

The first factor refers to the type of consequences and their temporary contingency after the emission of a specific behavior. When a behavior is followed by a pleasant consequence, the behavior tends to increase in frequency, while in the case that the consequence of the behavior is unpleasant and contingent, the tendency will be to decrease or eliminate such behavior.

The second variable refers to the reproduction of behaviors based on the observation of models or behavioral references .

Given that these are the main sources that motivate behavioral learning, the nature of the attitudes and the cognitive-behavioral typology of adult educators is very relevant. These figures are responsible for applying certain consequences to the behaviors issued by the children and represent models that will serve as a reference in the execution of behaviors by children.

Educational keys in the field of social skills

For all these reasons, it is important to bear in mind that, both because of the first and the second cases, their practices must be adequate to guarantee that the child learns a competent and satisfactory behavioral repertoire. Specific, four are the fundamental attitudes that adults must present to achieve the stated purpose :

  • Offer an appropriate model : the figure of the model must execute adequate behavioral repertoires at all times, since if the child observes divergences in behavior depending on the situation or the interlocutor, he / she will not be able to correctly internalize which one to apply, where and how. On the other hand, it should be taken into account that children are also susceptible to copying maladaptive behaviors observed in the models if they are carried out in the real context in a habitual way. The reference figures must show competence in the expression of their own opinion and their own feelings, make requests, reaffirm their point of view and reject inappropriate verbalizations in a fair and respectful manner.
  • Value the positive aspects As previously mentioned, in order for proper behavior to increase its frequency, it is fundamental to reward the issuer of such action with a positive and contingent consequence over time. Numerous studies show that positive reinforcement is the most effective methodology of the four principles of operant conditioning (positive / negative reinforcement and positive / negative punishment), to a greater extent than criticism or the threat of inappropriate behavior. An equally important aspect is to offer the child the possibility of autonomously performing the behaviors that are considered appropriate, including the initial moments in which this action has not just been fully executed correctly. Repeated practice will provide the improvement of behavior, so it is not advisable for the model to deprive the child of this autonomous practice.
  • F Acilitar in training in a divergent thinking : teach as a habit the idea that there is not, in many cases, a single solution to solve a particular problem can facilitate the establishment and development of creative capacity, as well as promoting active coping with possible adversities or events to overcome.
  • Provide opportunities that facilitate the practice of HHSS : the more varied the situations in which the child should develop, the more competition he will have before a greater number of social situations.An intrinsic characteristic of social situations is their spontaneity, which is going to facilitate that the child can start, in addition, the process of divergent reasoning indicated above.

Some conclusions

By way of conclusion, it can be extracted from the foregoing the infantile stage must be understood as a highly sensitive period for the acquisition of most of the learning .

The HHSS become a series of fundamental skills that can be placed at the same level (and even in a superior one) than other more instrumental learning such as linguistic aptitude or mathematics, since the development and individual-relational emotional stability of a person in vital stages Subsequent studies will derive from the consolidation of a repertoire of adaptive social skills during the initial periods.

Theories of Learning show how a large part of the teachings are transmitted by observation and imitation of models. In response to this premise, dThe fundamental role of the main socializing figures during the childhood stage should be underlined : parents and educators. Therefore, both parties should have sufficient and adequate resources to exercise positive and beneficial modeling in the recipient during their maturational growth.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bandura, A. (1999a). A social cognitive theory of personality. In L.Pervin & O.John (Eds.), Handbook of personality (2nd ed., Pp. 154-196). New York: Guilford.
  • Horse, V. (1993): Manual of therapy techniques and behavior modification. Madrid: XXL Century.
  • Horse, V. (1983). Manual of training and evaluation of social skills. Madrid: Siglo XXI.

Teaching Kids Social Skills When They Have None! (May 2021).


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