Signs of a child who is individually socially competent include a generally positive attitude, an ability to function without excessive dependence on adults, and a willingness to participate in necessary programs such as school or family functions. These children are able to handle criticism, and show empathy and a sense of humor. Even children as young as preschool age should have at least one or two close friends that they genuinely care about.
Social Skills Assessment
Socially competent children have acquired a set of social skills that help them function. They know how to approach other children with a positive attitude. They can express their own wishes and needs. They are able to cope with others' negativity and express their own frustrations appropriately. They are not easily intimidated by other children. They are good sports, with an ability to take turns, lose gracefully, and gain access to already established groups.
Peer Relationships Assessment
The level of social competence is apparent in the way children interact with peers. A child who has developed good social attributes is usually accepted, rather than rejected, by other children. Her peers usually do not fear or avoid her. Other children consider her their friend and invite her to play or work with them.
Adult Relationships Assessment
Social competence in a child is also apparent in the way he interacts with adults. A child with well-developed social attributes is not overly dependent on his parents, teachers or other adult caretakers. He responds appropriately when meeting new adults, neither showing excessive fear nor excessive friendliness. The way a child responds to adults in his environment is an indication of his social skills in general.
Characteristics of high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD), formerly known as Asperger syndrome, usually include limited interests, strange mannerisms, engaging in one-sided conversations and speaking unusually fast or in a monotone voice. Since children with high functioning autism can have advanced language and intellectual skills, they often relate better to adults, points out KidsHealth. Yet they generally have poor social skills, which can make them appear more socially immature than their peers. As a result, other children tend to see them as being odd, which leads to difficulty making friends with kids their own age.
Although kids with high-functioning autism usually don’t have language delays like other children on the autism spectrum, the disorder affects how they use language when interacting with others. Children at the high-functioning end of the spectrum often have advanced vocabularies from an early age, yet they typically have difficulty reading body language and show a tendency to take things literally. Despite these social impairments, because of their highly developed language skills, children with high-functioning autism can be quite conversational with adults.
Because of their lack of social skills, other children often misunderstand kids with autism spectrum disorders. Children with ASD who are highly intelligent and use vocabulary that their peers don’t understand frequently get labeled as being weird or quirky. Adults may be more accepting of their behaviors, making it easier for them to relate to another individual. Although all children need adult attention, it’s even more important for kids who need help in developing their social skills. Along with modeling appropriate social behavior, adults can help by building a positive and supportive relationship with a child who may feel socially isolated and rejected by his peers.
While most kids with ASD have trouble interacting with other children and sometimes even adults, engaging a child in social interaction is key. If your child doesn’t respond at first, it’s important to keep trying. Since it can be difficult for a child with autism to initiate conversation on her own, by following your child’s lead and responding to what she does, you are encouraging further interaction. You can also help by encouraging friendships between your child with ASD and other children.
Separating from Parents
Sometime between the ages of 9 and 12, the urge to separate and become more autonomous from parents becomes strong for adolescents, according to psychologist Joshua Mandel, writing for the NYU Child Study Center. Kids usually start to transfer connections away from parents and family to peers during the teen years. Cliques often give teens a group to belong to as they work toward creating their own identity separate from their family.
Finding a Social Niche
As a teen strives to define himself, a clique may be attractive because it can help him find his social niche -- the place where he feels accepted, supported and even protected by peers, says Mandel. Generally, cliques comprise a group of adolescents who have an interest or activity in common -- sports, science, fashion or drama, for example. In this light, cliques can help provide teenagers with a strong sense of identity.
Simple Friendships that Change
A group of friends often forms as teenagers come together through common interests or participation in various activities. A group of friends is generally more laid-back and flexible than a clique, with people joining or leaving the group as desired, suggests the TeensHealth website. What begins as simple friendship could change into a clique if the group becomes exclusionary and members begin controlling who joins and who leaves the group. The Wellspring Alliance in Louisiana notes that often one or two teens adopt positions of leadership and power over the other members in a clique, and the others are required to follow their lead. As the leaders begin discouraging members from associating with others outside of the group and enforcing specific activities, behaviors or ways of thinking in people who want to be a part of the group, teens may decide their current group of friends is more important to them than striking out on their own to form new friendships.
Fear of Being Alone
A teenager may experience strong fears of being ostracized if she doesn't join a clique, and may join one in order to avoid experiencing this negative social situation. However, even as cliques often engage in exclusionary tactics with others outside the clique, preventing members from socializing with these specific people, they also often ostracize fellow members who do not follow the rules set by the leaders of the clique. Even when there is conflict within a clique, teens may struggle to remain in the clique, believing that they will lose status and popularity if they leave it.
Despite the negative cliches surrounding popular teens, popularity has benefits that appeal to teenagers outside of superficial campus stardom. Popular kids tend to be well adjusted compared to less-popular teens, with superior social skills, according to CBS News.com. They also tend to have better, stronger relationships with friends -- and also, their mothers. Classmates tend to view them as trendsetters, so popularity leads to social power around campus. Teens who appear to be craving popularity may be attracted to the polished, self-confident and socially secure characteristics that popular students exhibit.
Teens may actually be in hot pursuit of social acceptance rather than popularity. Social acceptance refers to the level at which peers have acknowledged a teen’s social standing, regardless of perceived popularity, according to Psych Central News. Teenagers with high levels of social acceptance, as measured by interviewing peers, tend to do well in school over time regardless of their popularity level. Social acceptance tends to crowd out negative behaviors, such as hostility, withdrawing or being avoided by peers. Not being social scientists themselves, teens may be confusing traditional popularity with the secure feeling of being accepted by peers.
Teens might think they crave popularity, but perceptions of personal popularity may matter more than reality, according to Psych Central News. Teens who feel good about themselves and their perceptions of their own popularity do better in school than students who perceive themselves as less popular, despite their actual popularity levels. This can have positive long-term effects, since positive self-perceptions can be self-fulfilling and can extend into adulthood.
If your teenager seems obsessed with popularity, consider discussing some of the negative attributes of popularity with her. More popular students often become involved with substances and sexual experimentation earlier than their less-popular peers. Maintaining a popular social status can create pressure, stress or anxiety. Popular students may feel compelled to portray themselves in a certain, socially acceptable way rather than engaging in authentic exploration of their identity as a young adult. If teens seem resistant to talking with a parent about this topic, ask a favorite aunt or family friend to lead the conversation. Parents can also examine their own intentions -- it could be that mom or dad is pressuring a teen to befriend the cool crowd.
Provide a cursory explanation if you feel it necessary. You don’t have to justify your child’s behavior to anyone, but if your child’s anti-social behavior is noticeable, you may wish to comment on it. Keep it short though, as it isn’t important to explain the exact details of your child’s personality disorder, if he struggles with one, to random strangers.
Give a detailed explanation to people who watch or educate your child. If you skimp on the details you provide, you limit these individuals’ abilities to help your child. When speaking with people that fall into this category, outline the specifics of your child’s struggles and explain the steps you have taken to help him cope so they can mirror these supports when he is left in their charge.
Try parent management training. This technique, suggested by Alan E. Karzdin, Ph.D., of Yale University, involves modifying the way in which the parent communicates with the child. The theory supporting this treatment suggests that if parents model social behaviors when interacting with their children, they can help them learn these behaviors. Parents and their children must work closely with a psychologist when using this method.
Work with your child’s teacher and special education support staff to create a plan for assisting your child while he is in school if he has a diagnosed disorder. A plan of this type ensures that your child receives assistance from trained staff. It also protects him from some disciplinary sanctions to which he may otherwise be subjected if his struggles result in him acting out.
Teach your preschooler how to be flexible when joining. According to researchers at Auburn University's Extension Program in Child Development, children who learn how to join a game that's already in progress without disrupting the other kids demonstrate stronger peer relationships than kids who burst into a game demanding to fill a specific role. If your child approaches a group of preschoolers playing school, instruct him to think of ways he might be able to play without changing the game in progress. For example, if the other kids are playing police officers, offer to be another officer, or if they're playing restaurant, ask to be the second cook.
Practice and expect basic social graces when interacting with your preschooler. According to "Developing Social Skills in Preschoolers," a publication released by the Learning Express website, practicing basic social skills, such as making eye contact, waiting for her to finish speaking, and taking turns -- and reminding her to do the same -- are foundational tools in developing proper social graces and becoming more socially competent. Remind your little one to do the same before the start of a play date or birthday party.
Play with your preschooler in a peer-like way. This means getting down to his level and brainstorming ideas of what to build out of the wooden blocks. While it's fine to suggest ideas, you should avoid being too directive or critical, according to Auburn University's Extension Program Child Development Center. "Could we build a boat with the flags?" is preferable to "These flags are for boats, so we should build boats."
Offer plenty of opportunities for your preschooler to interact with socially competent peers through unstructured play dates.
Practice positive interactions in daily life, like saying "please" and "thank you" to each other at home, rather than scolding or criticizing her social skills.