Play is an integral part of growing up and is based on skills. Play offers the child an opportunity to learn to deal with the adult world. Play helps stimulate the neurons at the synapse level to strengthen brain function. In play, children learn to express their emotions and put curbs on their impulsiveness. They learn to regulate behavior and emotions as called for by the rules of the social setting.
Children use play to distinguish between real and imaginary situations through games of “Let’s pretend.” They use play-fighting to practice skills of physical contact and competition. Most children naturally learn to read facial gestures and other nonverbal communication so that they can respond with the appropriate skill required of the situation.
A recent survey showed that many people feel inadequate in dealing with social situations. The ability to get along in the world has been analyzed showing many skills that are built over a lifetime. The early skills are mostly nonverbal such as eye contact, facial expression, body language and engaging others in social interaction. Social skills are reciprocal. The basic building blocks for development of more complex behavior begin with the mother. The tiny baby learns to develop eye contact, smile responsively and look away to terminate contact with the other person. These early skills draw adults to the infant so that his needs can be met. He learns to imitate adult actions and initiate play with toys. Later the verbal skills of communication are learned and other prerequisite skills for playing with peers.
Some children do not learn the covert skills of social interaction naturally, due to some neurological impairment or due to learned dysfunctional behaviors that have been modeled in the home. They become locked into negative coping patterns of dealing with stressful situations that bring them more stress.
Children from dysfunctional families do not have positive skills modeled for them. They grow up learning to use manipulation, addictive behavior and violence as a way to cope with stress. Other children do not learn skills of social interaction naturally due to some neurological impairment. The rigidity of thinking associated with neurological impairment causes the child to become locked into negative coping patterns of dealing with stressful situations that bring him more stress.
Children who have a sense of loss of personal control may turn to peer groups that foster hate and lashing out at those individuals who are perceived to be different. Children who are adept at positive social interactions feel more in control of their lives decreasing their need to join radical fringe groups that promote crime and racial intolerance. Children who are disliked by others do not form bonds with others. Not having satisfying friendships, they often turn to antisocial behavior seeking activities that are stimulating to them. Children without friends often resort to alcohol and drug use and engage in gang behavior. Children who do not have a wide range of positive social skills to draw from to deal with stress become disconnected from positive values, high standards for one’s behavior and responsibility. They feel alienated from the higher concepts of respect for others, democracy. They may turn off to school activities and turn to the more exciting life of the street. This understood.org article discusses childhood coping skills in more detail.
Children and families who receive training in behavior management and communication learn positive ways of speaking to each other. They develop more effective ways of dealing with daily stressors and strains. Children are adept in picking up new ways of thinking and acting and learning tools to help them deal with conflict and negative emotions. Children as young as two years of age can be taught to “Use your words” when they are unhappy about something. They can learn to express anger in healthy ways instead of acting it out or bottling it up.
Social skill training offers tools and techniques for individuals to use to become happier human beings. Family members can learn to use feeling words when upset. They can learn to approach conflict with problem solving. Learning to communicate well and use I Messages such as “I feel angry, when you ___” becomes a priority for those families who want to live a healthy, happy life. Social skills are positive abilities that help the child to interact with others in different situations in ways that are valued. Social skills are those actions which are acceptable by society and are beneficial both to the person and to others.