Developing Relationship Skills Needed to Succeed

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

Signs of a True Friend

Are your kids developing the relationship skills they need to succeed? Building and maintaining relationships is essential for your kids’ success and happiness. Kids who lack enough positive relationships in their lives are in relationship poverty – a place no child wants to be.

Are relationship skills easy to learn? No! They take a lot of practice with many different people and situations.

How important are relationship skills? They are vital to your child’s success. When you consider the 50% divorce rate or the fact that most people who fail at a job do so due to a lack of soft skills not technical skills, it is clear strong interpersonal skills are both crucial and challenging.

Helping Your Child Develop a Strong Foundation

Your relationship with your child is the foundation on which they will build all other relationships. No matter what your children’s age, you can strengthen your relationship by spending more time with them.

Join your children in things they like doing. It might be building with Legos, playing with dolls, playing catch, swinging, biking or jumping on a trampoline. When you participate in activities your children enjoy, you send a strong message about how much you love them and want to be with them. Be sure to choose activities that don’t involve screens. While video games and TV shows are something you both may enjoy, they do not involve enough face-to-face time.

Now you may not really like playing with dolls or shooting baskets. That’s not the point. You do these activities to be closer to your children.

Do you always have to be there to play with your children? No! Your children also need to learn to entertain themselves and take responsibility for what to do if they are bored.

Developing Your Child’s Capacity for Being Kind

All kids need lots of time with loving adults and other children to develop their social skills. During a Brain Development & Learning Conference presentation, Dr. Bruce Perry explained “There are parts of your brain that are crucial for forming and maintaining relationships - for developing the capacity to be humane, to be empathic, to be capable of sharing, to be capable of self-sacrifice for the people in your family and community. And those parts of the brain develop very much like other parts of the brain in a use-dependent way.

He goes onto explain that like learning a language or physical skill it takes a lot of repetition. Given smaller family sizes, larger classroom sizes and increases in screen time, most kids have significantly less relationship time than the previous generation.

What are some signs that your child needs more time interacting with others?

  • Your child is not good at sharing with other kids.
  • Even when friends come over, your child prefers watching TV or being on a computer to playing with friends.
  • Your child struggles to make and keep friends.
  • Your child is older than six and does not have at least one close friend.
  • Your child likes to be in charge and is reluctant to listen to others.
  • Your child acts inappropriately in many social situations.
If you feel your children lack social skills appropriate for their age, they need more opportunities for practice. They may prefer being alone or playing on their digital device, however, those activities do not build social skills.

Treating Autism Through Strengthening the Child’s Relationships

Raun Kaufman’s book, Autism Breakthrough: The Groundbreaking Method That Has Helped Families All Over the World, describes a relationship building program that helps autistic children. The program, called Son-Rise, is provided at the Autism Treatment Center of America. What’s truly amazing is this program is based on what Kaufman’s parents did to help him when he was a toddler diagnosed with severe autism and an IQ of 30.

While the experts in the late 1970’s provided little hope for Kaufman, his parents saw his most fundamental issue was with social skills. They worked tirelessly on building their relationship with him by joining him in his activities like repetitively spinning plates and rocking. Eventually their relationship built the bridge he needed to join them in their world instead of retreating into his own world.

Kaufman describes how the Son-Rise approach is different. "First, we want to change the question we ask ourselves when seeking to help our child. Instead of asking, "What do I need to do in order to change my child's behavior?" we want to ask, "What do I need to do in order to create a relationship with my child?" Once we ask this question, everything changes. Our whole approach shifts."

He goes on to explain why creating the relationship is the key to everything. Children’s behavior is always serving a purpose. This is why trying to forcefully stop a behavior causes more problems than it solves. By building the relationship, the troublesome behaviors eventually melt away on their own.

Learning Life Lessons through Friendships

Navigating friendships is challenging for many children at different times. For example, someone who used to be your child’s good friend suddenly no longer wants to play and your child is upset by this.

A mom described her daughter, Eva’s, search for friends who would truly appreciate her for who she is – including her enthusiasm and sometimes loud voice. The group of girls Eva hung out with often complained she was being too noisy. Her mom asked “Do these friends work for you?” Eva realized that she was happiest when she was with friends who enjoyed her excitement and didn’t try to tone her down.

Eva started working hard to make new friends who were comfortable with her just as she was. She was much happier with this new set of friends!

All these friendship struggles prepare your kids for eventually dating. By the time your kids are dating, it’s important that they accept that not everyone they’d like to go out with will want to go out with them. Also, not everyone they want to continue to date will want the same thing. Teen dating involves plenty of learning opportunities about relationships.

It’s only by participating in relationships that your children learn the intricacies of making them work. Having a solid, loving relationship with you provides a wonderful foundation for their future friendships.

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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