Successful Kids Have Strong Social Skills

Social skills are essential for raising happy and successful children. Now there is even more evidence to support this statement…

Social Skills

Source: Pinterest

Social Interactions can Enhance Creativity

Social interactions can help us to be more creative, and creativity is one of the most important qualities we can have. It has been said many times – creativity does not exist in a vacuum. Indeed, according to Dr Muthukrishna’s research, creativity exists in the collective mind.

To be an innovator, it’s better to be social rather than smart.

There’s no doubt that there are variations in people’s raw skills, but what predicts the difference between a Steve Jobs and a Joe Bloggs is actually their exposure to new ideas that are wonderful and different.

If you want to be more creative the best thing you can do is to talk to people who disagree with you.

– Muthukrishna

It’s a chain reaction – to help children be more creative, they need social interactions for which they will need social skills. They also need to be able to listen to the ideas of people who disagree with them and be willing to turn these ideas around in their heads. This is challenging because we have a strong tendency to shut down opposing ideas from the start without hearing them or considering them.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

Strong Social Skills in Kindergarten Improves Chances of Future Success

A 20 year study published in the American Journal of Public Health reveals that children with strong social skills in kindergarten (such as a willingness to share or be helpful) are more likely to have greater career success in adulthood. The study followed 800 children from kindergarten to adulthood. Data was collected on the children’s social competence in kindergarten and their career outcomes in adulthood.

Key Research Findings:

For every one-point increase in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she was:

  • Twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood;
  • 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma; and
  • 46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25.

For every one-point decrease in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she had:

  • 64% higher chance of having spent time in juvenile detention;
  • 67% higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood;
  • 52% higher rate of recent binge drinking and 82% higher rate of recent marijuana usage; and
  • 82% higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing.

Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Helping Children Develop Strong Social Skills

“Helping children develop social and emotional skills is one of the most important things we can do to prepare them for a healthy future.” – Kristin Schubert, program director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Even though we know that social skills are important – as essential as reading, writing and math – it does not get the same level of attention. Why is that? Is it because we don’t think it is a problem until children are getting into trouble at school for delinquent behaviour; is it because we think that social skills are something all children eventually learn along the way; or is it because we don’t know how to help them?

If a child is having trouble with math, we can help them with extra math classes or hiring a tutor. The same goes for literacy and other subjects at school. But when it comes to social skills, it’s not so straight forward. So what can we do to help our children develop their social skills? The following are some methods that may help.

Reading Literary Fiction Books may Enhance Social Skills

Studies support the finding that reading fictional works, specifically literary fiction, engages the part of the brain involved in empathy and imagination. Researchers believe that this may enhance social skills.

Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind – Science, 2013:

…reading literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective Theory of Mind* (ToM) and cognitive ToM compared with reading nonfiction, popular fiction, or nothing at all. Specifically, these results show that reading literary fiction temporarily enhances ToM.

* Theory of Mind refers to the brain’s ability to recognise that other people may have different thoughts and feelings from ours.

Reading fiction and reading minds: The role of simulation in the default network – Social Cognitive and Effective Neuroscience, 2015:

Findings from neuroscience show that reading and social cognition both recruit the default network, a network which is known to support our capacity to simulate hypothetical scenes, spaces, and mental states… Analyses also demonstrated that participants who read fiction most often also showed the strongest social cognition performance.

What is literary fiction?

The definition for literary fiction is a work that holds literary merit. That usually means it is likely to have won some literary award. Literary fiction is also usually more about the characters and is “real world”. HuffPost sums it up best:

In essence, the best Genre Fiction contains great writing, with the goal of telling a captivating story to escape from reality. Literary Fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer’s being, and is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves.

If you’re still struggling for titles, you can check out the best literary fiction list from Goodreads.

Play is Important for Social and Emotional Development

Play helps children increase their social competence and emotional maturity by allowing them to:

  • Practice both verbal and nonverbal communication skills by negotiating roles, trying to gain access to ongoing play, and appreciating the feelings of others.
  • Respond to their peers’ feelings while waiting for their turn and sharing materials and experiences.
  • Experiment with roles of the people in their home, school, and community by coming into contact with the needs and wishes of others.
  • Experience others’ points of view by working through conflicts about space, materials, or rules positively.
  • Express and cope with difficult feelings and experiences. Through the action of play, children can safely explore situations and emotions they might not want to face in real life, such as: “dark” emotions, experiences that frighten them, or doing things they are not allowed.

The Impact of Music on Social and Personal Development

Children who learn music have better communication and social interaction skills because it helps children develop empathy and improve their ability to interpret facial expressions and body language.

Music has been linked to the capacity to increase emotional sensitivity. The recognition of
emotions in music is related to emotional intelligence. – The Power of Music

It should be added that these positive effects of music are dependent on the child enjoying learning music. In other words, forcing children to pick up learning music when they hate it probably won’t do much for them from a social and personal development perspective.

Social Skills Interventions

The follow presentation by Kristine Strong on Social Skills Interventions may be intended for children with special needs but the activities are recommended can also be used with any child.

More ways to build social skills:

  • Neuro-Dramatic Play
  • Mindfulness Meditation – children who were taught mindfulness skills showed a 24% improvement in social behaviors. They were less aggressive and more empathetic and optimistic than peers without the training.
  • Sports – kids who are active in sports have better emotional management and social skills.

Emotional Intelligence: Children Need Empathy to be Successful

Raising Kids with Grit

Image Source: Pinterest – TED Talks

Ever since Angela Lee Duckworth’s talk on TED about Grit being the key to success, I’ve been seeing more and more articles on the need to raise gritty kids. While the idea is great, putting it into practice is not quite that simple. Duckworth herself is not entirely certain if grit can be taught, though there are some who are more optimistic. We’re trying to stay in the latter camp – at the very least, it can’t hurt to try.

How do you inculcate grittiness?

According to Margaret Perlis, there are 5 characteristics of grit:

  1. Courage
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Follow Through
  4. Resilience
  5. Striving for Excellence

And if we focus on developing these five characteristics, perhaps we can teach our children to become more gritty.

Image Source: Pinterest – Poster Lessons

Raising Kids with Courage

Courage, in this sense, refers to the ability to face the fear of failure. We can do this by:

  • doing something that scares us everyday
  • participating in competitive sports

Raising Kids who are Conscientiousness

In a previous post about conscientiousness, we identified that conscientiousness can be taught by teaching children responsibility, diligence, and helpfulness. Margaret Perlis further defined it as being achievement oriented rather than just being dependable. In other words, you need to commit to go for gold rather than just showing up for practice – while both examples demonstrate conscientiousness, the former is achievement oriented while the latter is dependable.

Raising Kids with Follow Through

Being able to set long term goals and staying on to see them through. There is some overlap here with conscientiousness because one way to teach children to follow through is to teach them responsibility. Here are 6 ways to teach children responsibility from Empowering Parents:

  • Start as early as possible: give your children responsibilities for things that involve them, e.g. packing up their own toys. They should learn that they’re individuals and that they have their own individual responsibilities.
  • Identify responsibilities and use responsible language: Connect praise and rewards with responsibility so that your child learns to associate the connection. E.g. “You know, it’s your responsibility to do that and I like that you did it.” Or “You know, I’m rewarding you because you met your responsibility.”
  • The Power of Example: As they say – children will do what you do and not what you say, so it’s important to meet your own responsibilities and tell your child when you do so. For example, if your child asks, “Where are you going, Mommy?” Say, “I’m going to work. That’s my responsibility.”
  • Teach and Coach Responsibility: Talk to your children about responsibility and what it means. Responsibilities are like commitments or promises – they’re the things you have to do, the things that are your job, and the things you’re involved in, where other people are depending on you. It is important also to coach your children about meeting their responsibilities.
  • Accountability: Responsibility should be associated with both rewards and consequences. Rewards don’t necessarily have to be about buying things or spending money, they may be opportunities to spend time doing something your children really enjoy. Consequences may include withholding electronics, extra chores, or extra work.
  • Tell Your Kids What You’ll be Doing Differently: For example, you can say, “From now on, I’m going to start to point out how we meet responsibilities around here. So, you’ll have a clearer idea of how many responsibilities I meet and why I think it’s important that you meet your responsibilities.” Have a talk with older children about why meeting responsibilities is important to success in life. Translate it so it means something to them – “All the things that I buy for you as a parent, you’re going to have to get for yourself someday. And in order to do that, you’re going to have to be able to meet responsibilities just like I do. And if I didn’t meet my responsibilities of going to work and doing a good job, I would not be able to give you those things.” Explain the idea with simple, straight talk that progresses from “This is why responsibilities are important” to “here’s what’s going to happen if you do—or if you don’t—achieve them.”

There is also another great article on teaching children follow through on the Huffington Post by Dr Jim Taylor.

Raising Kids with Resilience

Resilience is a dynamic combination of optimism, creativity, and confidence, which together empower one to reappraise situations and regulate emotion – a behavior many social scientists refer to as “hardiness” or “grit” … “hardiness” is comprised of three tenents:

  1. the belief one can find meaningful purpose in life
  2. the belief that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events
  3. the belief that positive and negative experiences will lead to learning and growth.


We’ve written previously about raising resilient children in an older post – how do we raise resilient, persistent children? – but you should also read what Dr Justin Coulson has to say about raising resilient children. Here it is in a nutshell:

A study of 16000 Australian children revealed that “children who were most resilient almost universally agreed with two statements that children with the lowest resilience disagreed with”. These were the statements:

  • I have a parent who cares about me
  • I have a parent who listens to me

Therefore, if we want to raise resilient children, we should focus on helping our children feel cared for and heard. Dr Coulson offers 18 ways we can do this:

1. Stop saying “I’m busy” – spend time with your children.

2. Turn off your smartphone – be really present when you speak with your children (as they say in FISH! Philosophy – Be There).

3. Turn off screens – spend time together without any screens.

4. Make eye contact when you talk to your children.

5. Listen – stop whatever you’re doing and really listen!

6. Bed time is best – 5 important things to say to your child at bedtime:

Image Source: Kidspot

7. Give hugs – research shows that hugs help fight illness, stress and depression because hugs can trigger the release of oxytocin (also known as the love hormone) which helps strengthen social bonds.

Image Source: Raw for Beauty

8. Stay calm – our jobs as parents is to stay calmer than our children because it helps them learn to regulate their behaviour.

9. One on one time is crucial – go on regular “dates” with each of your children.

10. Smile – never underestimate the power of a smile, they are contagious, they elevate mood, and they are therapeutic.

When your baby sees you smile, it releases chemicals in her body. This makes her feel good – and the chemicals (called opiates) also help her brain grow. – Raising Children

11. Make time to do nothing so our children know they can approach us.

12. Respond to challenging behaviour with maturity – remember that challenging behaviour comes from unmet needs and it can be a chance to get close to our children and build our relationships.

13. Leave love notes – in lunch boxes, under the pillow, or an email because written messages speak louder than words.

14. Offer autonomy – while it is important to set rules and limits, children feel loved when they are given choices and a chance to decide for themselves.

15. Get down on the floor with them and play – e.g. board games, wrestling, jumping on the trampoline. Remember, families that play together stay together.

“Play is children’s main way of communicating. …. Playing is connection. … Boys especially need empathy and emotional connection. You can’t communicate to them that what they want to play is stupid and violent and antisocial, and then expect them to talk to you about their inner feelings.” – Lawrence Cohen, Playful Parenting

16. Save their presents – it shows your child that you treasure their thoughtfulness and kind gifts.

17. Tell them you love them – every child loves to hear this from their parents even if they act like it doesn’t matter.

18. Show them you love them – actions speak louder than words.

Raising Kids who Strive for Excellence

Gritty individuals strive for excellence – which should be differentiated from perfection:

Excellence is an attitude, not an endgame. The word excellence is derived from the Greek word Arête which is bound with the notion of fulfillment of purpose or function and is closely associated with virtue. It is far more forgiving, allowing and embracing failure and vulnerability on the ongoing quest for improvement. It allows for disappointment, and  prioritizes progress over perfection. Like excellence, grit is an attitude about, to paraphrase Tennyson…seeking, striving, finding, and never yielding. – Forbes

Image Source: Pinterest – Alicia and Andy Todd

4 Ways to Guide Your Child to Excellence – Babble:

  1. Believe in your child because your child will live up (or down) to your expectations (The rule of expectations – the impact of suggestion)
  2. Support don’t smother – set high expectations but follow your child’s lead. “Early exposure to resources is wonderful, as is setting high expectations and demonstrating persistence and resilience when it comes to life challenges. But a parent must not use affection as a reward for success or a punishment for failure.”
  3. Pace and persist – and we’re back to teaching children self-control
  4. Embrace failure – which takes us back to “courage” and the fear of failure


Grit, Mental Toughness, and Sisu – the Qualities that Separate Excellence from Mediocrity

If you want your children to be successful in life, you need to help them develop grit. In an earlier post on this subject, we touched on some of the ways children can learn to be “gritty”:

But surely there’s got to be more…

Grit has been defined as a “firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger”.

Mental Toughness

Mental toughness is a quality often associated with sports and refers to the mental qualities of the sportsperson. It refers to a “collection of attributes that allow a person to persevere through difficult circumstances and emerge without losing confidence” (Wikipedia). I don’t know about you but that sounds a lot to me like grit.

“Most elite athletes report that at least 50% of superior athletic performance is the result of mental or psychological factors, and a whopping 83% of coaches rate mental toughness as the most important set of psychological characteristics for determining competitive success.” – Scientific American.

The development of mental toughness is an ongoing process that is the result of repeated exposure to a variety of experiences, challenges, and adversities.


Picture credits:

Sports Can Increase Mental Toughness

Mental toughness has been found to be higher in athletes as compared to non-athletes, and this held true regardless of the type of sport played. Additionally, children with higher mental toughness were found to be more resilient against stress and depression!

So if you want your children to develop mental toughness, get them involved in sports!

Learn to Manage the Fear of Failure

In her article 5 characteristics of grit, Margaret Perlis talks about having the ability to manage the fear of failure. She also highlights a very important concern which may be an underlying cause for the fear of failure that is on the rise in children:

“the current trend of coddling our youth, by removing competition in sports for example, is preventing some kids from actually learning how to fail and to embrace it as an inevitable part of life. In our effort to protect our kids from disappointment are we inadvertently harming them?” – Forbes.

To overcome this, she quotes Eleanor Roosevelt: “do something that scares you everyday”, because if courage is like a muscle, it will get stronger following this daily exercise regime.

Practicing Sisu

What is Sisu? It is a Finnish phrase that refers to extraordinary determination, courage, and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity.

Sisu contributes to an “action mindset”, a consistent and courageous approach toward challenges that enables individuals to see beyond their present limitations and into what might be.