Ask Reading Kingdom: What are some ways to help children become more social?

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Any consideration of social skills needs to take account of the modern hi-tech age in which we live. Kids spend hours and hours each day with the devices –with the result that they spend many fewer hours interacting with people. You can readily see this when you go to a restaurant and watch families dining “together.” An increasingly common scene is a couple of adults (often talking on cell phones) and one or more kids—each holding and concentrating on a separate device.

Mealtimes are known to offer great opportunities for pleasant interaction. So the effects of the high-tech age are not simply in reducing interaction time, but in transforming some of the best opportunities for interaction into solo journeys. A recent study in England found that over 20 per cent of families who bring tech to the table feel they are prevented from having proper conversations with each other at meal times, seriously impacting on what should be quality time together. Interestingly, Steve Jobs   made public statements about supporting the idea of “limiting how much technology our kids use at home.”

So in today’s world, the first key step in helping children to become more social is to limit “screen time.” Those limitations have to apply to yourself as well. It’s vital to ensure that you set aside times where you and your children have truly free time together to enjoy each other’s company and discuss any and all issues that might come up.

When you first implement this pattern, be prepared for some resistance because the call of the devices is powerful. If this occurs, avoid getting into heated discussions where you attempt to explain and justify the new patterns. Just make sure the time stays free and offers opportunities for pleasurable exchange. This can include having games available, watching movies together, reading books together and looking through photographs.

Without any stress or sense of pedantic teaching, these encounters will impart valuable social skills such as learning to listen, staying with a conversation, showing empathy towards others, building rapport, knowing how and when to talk about oneself and practicing a whole range of non-verbal social skills including eye contact, smiling and body movements. As Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Needed to Learn in Kindergarten stated, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” You are a central role model for your child and if you engage in “quality time,” the effects on your child’s social skills can be enormous.

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