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Social skills are not just for making friends

Social skills are not just for making friends

Social skills are an ‘all purpose’ learning tool for everything we do in life.  I believe that teaching our children to become adaptive social beings, is at the heart of why we parent in the first place. The first reason is that as humans our very survival depends on our relationships with other people. Secondly, all the social skills children need to get along with others, are the very same ones that children need in order to also regulate their behavior, have emotional well-being, achieve in school and do well, later on, in the work place. This idea is catching on in the form of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs.

There is a big overlap between Reflective Parenting and SEL. Reflective Parenting aims to help parents use the parent-child relationship as the setting within to teach social-emotional skills to their child: skills such as self-calming, empathy and communication.

People often confuse the idea of having ‘good social skills’ as meaning a person is gregarious or has lots of friend. This is not the case at all.  It simply means having the ability to see the perspective of other people and to be able to conform one’s own behavior in order to get along with other people. In fact, you can be shy, or introverted and have good social skills. On the other hand, you can be gregarious and have relatively poor socials skills.

SEL teaches the kind of ‘character building’ and ‘stick-to-itiveness’, parents and teachers wish more children had. Growing numbers of colleges and employers complain too many high schoolers are lacking in these skills, and thus will be less likely to perform as well in adult life.

The good news is more and more schools are incorporating SEL programs into their curriculum; More and more educators realize SEL is just as important as reading, science, and math.

SEL does not start in school. Reflective Parenting emphasizes it begins from the moment of birth within the parent-child relationship- e.g., the back and forth of communication, the empathy, soothing and support parents provide, and the rules, expectations and limits that parents have. The parent-child relationship plays a direct role in SEL throughout a child’s life.

School is a particularly good setting for SEL. It is where children learn how to relate to people beyond their families. And there are so many relationships to learn from.  Children can learn how to deal with many different types of people- nicer ones and nastier ones. They can learn to deal with both peer relationships and relationships with the adult authority figures. They can learn how to deal with 1-on-1 relationships and the group relationships that occur in free play, collaborative school work or on a team. Along with home, school is a microcosm preparing children for the outside world they will join as they grow up.

SEL programs teach children the same skills Reflective Parenting encourages: Self-awareness, Self-management, Social-awareness,  Relational skills  and Responsible decision making

  • Children learn to recognize, respect and communicate effectively how they feel and what they want, as well what others feel and want.
  • Children learn to regulate their behavior, impulses, emotional expression and what they say, to fit the social situation, so that they can connect, cooperate and collaborate well with others
  • SEL has broad benefits, beyond the social realm, because in the process children are developing a whole complex web of internal self-control capacities.
  • These same skills enable children to take more responsibility for their actions, pay attention and do their school work despite distractions, follow rules and comply with regulations, and incorporate the feelings and needs of others into their decision making.

Many of the ideas in this blog are based on research from RAND





As a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, I have been in private practice for over 35 years, with a special interest in parents and couples.


Nothing from June 7, 2023 to December 6, 2023.