Three Things Parents Should Know About Social Skills - Mary Ann Siller's Advice

Mary Ann Siller Listen to Mary Ann Siller's advice on three things parents should know about social skills.


I'm Mary Ann Siller. I'm the national project manager for the American Foundation for the Blind in our professional development department. I'm part of the Center on Vision Loss in Dallas, Texas.

What are the three things that you want to ensure that parents know about social skills?

The three things I feel parents need to know about building strong social skills would include the importance of children knowing how they fit into the world around them. Children need to be reminded in different ways of who they are as a person, who they are in their community, and how they fit into the various cultures around the world. Children need to have an opportunity to learn from their experiences but first have to be given opportunities to take part in all aspects of life at home, school, and the community. A perfect way to support knowing the world around them is to have choices offered to them at a very young age. They will learn—in a positive way—their likes and dislikes and knowing their strengths and weaknesses to improve upon.

I feel we need to encourage children to talk about who they are, including their visual condition. When children talk about themselves, it should be in context of their hobbies, their pets, their friends and family, their neighborhood, and the world around them, and in addition, speak to their visual condition. Putting the child first is key.

The second area would be children need experiences in all sizes, makes, and models which would build upon their awareness of who they are. We want children to have regular and frequent opportunities to interact with others. There's a certain give and take in conversation that is like a melody in a song, that is very important for children to learn. And this type of skill is really a highly visual skill, so children with visual impairments need to be taught that conversational song that is important in making friends and building strong social skill structures. You have to be aware of this so the conversation is two-way and not one-way.

Another area that is important in relationship to building these strong social skills is the eye contact. That's essential in building awareness of who they are. We want good body language, standing up straight and looking forward, and leaning in when you're having a conversation so the person knows that you're interested. That really shows that a person is genuinely interested in the conversation, and builds that strong rapport with someone, whether it's a friendship, or a work colleague, or someone in the community that you're wanting to ask for services.

You need to be a good listener. That's very important—that we need to teach our children. We want them to learn to voice an opinion with sensitivity, though, to others. We want them to be tolerant of others. That's a very important social skill that they need to learn.

Let children make choices, and yes, learn from their mistakes. That's very important that we need to—at home and school—learn to let the children make some mistakes, but give them in small context so they can learn from that and it's a safe environment. We want them to solve problems independently.

One of the best ways to find new experiences is during playtime. I feel playtime is so important in building social skills, and it's not just for the very young child. We all need opportunities to play and to build social skills with our friends and family. We need to take playtime opportunities and build it into the home, and also into the school. It might not be just a playtime—this is one hour. It could be incorporated into a variety of activities. It offers children a creative way to try out critical thinking skills, the give and take of friendships, the love and compassion for others, and simply, playtime throughout the child's life is crucial.

The third area that's important for parents to know about building social skills is that children with visual impairments need to learn the skills and drills of being organized. As Kevin O'Conner, who is a previous NAPVI board president—which is the National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments—what he mentions in an AFB Press book called Skills for Success is that organized people are made and not born. This is something we need to incorporate in children at a very young age about being organized, about how to learn to do that, which builds the social skills and builds very important skill areas related to career education that will be coming up throughout their child's life.

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