We have all heard of the "Eton effect", whereby public school pupils are seemingly able to take every social situation in their stride, get their opinions heard above the crowd and display a self-confidence most of us could only dream of! Truth of the matter is: socially confident individuals tend to get places, and whether we like it or not, we live in a society that values this kind of self-assuredness and social panache.
Parents don't necessarily want pretentious know-it-all children with whom you can't get a word in edgewise. However, social confidence doesn't necessarily mean dominating every social situation. It does mean children feel they have a voice and something to contribute when in conversation with others. This translates to confidence in more formal settings such as a classroom. It also means they won't feel anxious in social situations or 'walked over'. We don't want our children to grow up feeling inadequate around anyone, so what can we do to nurture our children's social prowess?
Teach them to ask
Sure, it feels nice doing things for your children, but quite frankly, after the age of six, there is no reason why they shouldn't be the ones asking for the bills in restaurants, fetching parcels from the neighbour's house or seeking directions when lost around the zoo! With every encounter, and with careful guidance as to the social etiquette required for each scenario, they soon develop that sense of agency so critical to self-belief. They learn that they can shape social encounters and in doing so, receive feedback on their skills from adults. It sounds complicated but it isn't. Your job as parent is to give them the equivalent of 'conversation stabilisers' to get them going!
Give them a script
'Conversational stabilisers' come in the form of social scripts for everyday situations. For example, you need stamps at the post office. It is not uncommon to see parents keeping fidgety children at bay in queues, when in fact they are missing a golden opportunity to prep them. "Ask the lady if you can have some stamps," "But Mummy, I don't know what to say", they might reply. Parent then steps in to offer the script: "You need to say, may I have a book of twelve first class stamps please". Yes, they might resist and ask you to do it, but press on. Predictably, the person on the other side of the counter will smile glowingly at your child for asking so nicely! This kind of feedback helps children feel sufficiently confident to want to do it again and again...
Remember that practice makes perfect
Imagine social confidence as a muscle that needs exercising. The more your child engages with the world around them, the more skilled they become. Rest assured, after a time, your children will leave the conversational stabilisers behind and flourish socially. More importantly, they will have developed a methodology for conversations that will stand them in good stead for life's more challenging conversations. Ultimately, helping them become socially confident is about getting them "tooled up" for what lies ahead.
Teach them the importance of listening
What makes a good conversation? This is something to ask your family around that Sunday lunch table. For example, you might concur that a one-sided conversation is boring; that it is important to look interested in what others are saying as they speak; and that you can easily get a stalling conversation going again with new questions. Being able to listen to others respectfully and assert one's own viewpoint requires skill. How to have a great conversation is something we can teach our children to do within the secure boundary of family life.
Embed debate into family conversation
You may have heard that family meal-time is an important activity that can help promote children and young people's academic and social development. The evidence behind this assertion continues to stack up, so try and embed family conversation and debate on social issues into family life. If you feel short of questions, topics or themes for your weekly debacle, you can actually buy conversational prompts or access newspapers especially created for children. If you are really interested in learning more about the art of conversation, take a course.!
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