Let’s face it, some children can walk into a room and find a new friend in seconds. Other children kids freeze in fear when facing new social situations. I have one child in each category, and I have to parent each differently. Children’s social skills come with practice, but each child tends to learn in different ways. Getting kids involved in activities can help them gain confidence necessary for long-term success.
Parents tend to fall somewhere on a continuum between those who overload their children with activities, and those who crave simplicity. You know your children, your schedule, and everybody’s limitations. Here are three types of activities worth considering for their social development:
1. Learning an instrument.
I am a big believer in bands. Kids learn to work in a team to make beautiful music. Yes, it doesn’t start off very beautiful, but they’ll get there in a few years. Each player has a part, and children have a chance to gain communication skills and responsibility. Experts recommend playing to a child’s strength when selecting an instrument.
Trumpets and flutes often have the main melody, so an outgoing person does well. Trombones and clarinets often play a supporting role, so a shier child may be more comfortable. Energetic little ones will love the physical aspect of kids’ drums like the ones available at West Music. Pensive children may connect with the intricacies of the piano or keyboards, available through Yamaha and Casio.
Band also is a great equalizer: everybody starts out knowing pretty much the same amount of nothing. Each musician’s success depends on how much he or she is willing to practice. Those who gain status in the group do so by hard work, not raw talent.
2. Join a sports team
Getting the energy out in children’s busy little bodies is incredibly important. Picking the right sports team and the right sport is equally important. Experimenting and doing research pays off.
Rather than just signing up for a sport, let your child try it out. The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) can give you ideas.
Swim programs are great because they often combine swimming safety with competition and team building.
Soccer is a perennial favorite. My son absolutely loves to kick that ball and chase that ball around.
Part of developing social skills is the ability to recognize your comfort zone. As with all activities, chose them based on your child’s strengths. Forcing them into an activity means you will be trading off social skill development for discipline lessons.
Research the type of team your child is considering joining. Is it a church basketball league with an emphasis on sportsmanship or a for-profit program with an emphasis on competition? Both have their advantages, but each will teach a different type of social skills.
Also, the older your children are and the more advanced they become, the more likely they will be asked to try out for a traveling or year-round team. These organizations offer terrific opportunities, including training for college scholarships, but they also can be hard on the mind and body. Keep a clear vision of your child’s goals and needs, as well as your pocketbook. Traveling gets expensive quick, but if you want the commitment, the rewards are massive. Children end up spending lots of quality time with adults interested in their development, as well as other young athletes committed to the same goals.
Hands down, the most popular social development and confidence building programs are Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. By selling Girl Scout cookies, your child learns how to speak to adults from all walks of life and request money for a product. That skill is priceless.
Furthermore, the troops can spur lifelong bonds and connections.
Scouting places kids in the great outdoors. Nothing builds a sense of togetherness like collaborating to pitch a tent up or start a fire in the rain. Badges are rewards that require great effort at a low financial cost. While working with one another to achieve the goals, the kids learn basic first aid, digital photography, archery, outdoor cooking, hiking, orienteering, wilderness survival, and on and on.
The previously mentioned activities create opportunity for service, which allows kids to think about people outside their own families and peer groups. By practicing service while they are young, children see themselves as empowered to make a difference in the world.
So what activities have enabled your children to build confidence and social skills? Let me know in the comment section below!