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  • Writer's pictureHayley Bilski

Confidence at school

Updated: Apr 17, 2018

Good social skills are critical to successful functioning in life. These skills enable us to know what to say, how to make good choices, and how to behave in diverse situations.

As parents and teachers, it is our job to help each child discover a world where creative freedom and personal responsibility open a child's mind and heart to the excitement of learning.

The extent to which children and adolescents possess good social skills can influence their academic performance, behaviour, social and family relationships, and involvement in extracurricular activities. Social skills are also linked to the quality of the school environment and school safety.

As parents and teachers, it is our job to help each child discover a world where play, creative

freedom, self trust, and personal responsibility open the child 's mind and heart to the

excitement of learning and the enjoyment of sharing it with others.

While most children pick up positive skills through their everyday interactions with adults and

peers, it is important that educators and parents reinforce this casual learning with direct and

indirect instruction. We must also recognize when and where children pick up behaviours that might be detrimental to their development or safety.

Feeling safe at school

There are many reasons why a child may not feel safe in school. This may be their first

school experience, they may have recently had a major change in their lives EG. Divorce,

death, immigration, they may need a little help in improving their self confidence, they may

need greater stimulation intellectually. Children do not behave negatively or create

boundaries for themselves without a reason.

There are many ways to encourage positive social skills amongst children from a young age.

Parents and teachers could focus on:

Active listening

Giving children an opportunity to communicate in their own way, according to their means.

Through words, actions, body language, we can understand a lot about what children are

experiencing. Some children will be more confident in asking questions and requesting help.

Observing the quiet children is important so that their needs are met, and encouraging the

outgoing children to nurture their ability to speak out, is also important.

Observing and knowing each individual

Each child is unique and has his/her own likes, dislikes and personality. It is essential that we

do not put children into a “box” IE. Place expectations about how we feel each child of a

certain age should act and respond. Getting to know the children for their own unique

attributes is the key to building confidence. Seeing each child’s strengths, rather than

focusing on their areas of challenge, is pivotal in developing children into self assured young

people. Of course it is important to be aware of the areas in need of development, but

learning and encouraging what they are good at is highly important. Providing feedback to

them also creates greater confidence in children. Each child has their own strengths and

talents, and we all need to see these and nurture them.

Managing anger or frustration

Being aware of the tone that we use, and reminding ourselves that we are the grownups in

each situation.

Recognizing/understanding others point of view and why they are doing what they are doing

If we get to know each child well, we will learn to understand why they do things in the way

that they are doing it. Sometimes it is important to sit with a child for a few minutes and ask

them why they are doing what they are doing. We can also reflect for ourselves, is it

because they are scared? nervous? excited? bored? tired? There is a reason why children do

the things they do. If we can understand this, then we can learn how to work on any

unwanted behaviours, and help the child to feel happy and safe.

Social problem solving

In isolation, social skills are not sufficient to ensure positive interactions at school;

interventions should not be limited to instruction and training. The school culture should

encourage all of the above. Discipline policies should be put into place in each classroom,

emphasizing relationship-building between staff and children and between schools and

families. Teachers must be confident in their discipline approaches, as inconsistency and lack

of confidence will be picked up very quickly by the children and parents.

Peer negotiation and conflict management

Observing how the children are able to manage conflict themselves before an adult

intervenes. If there are any hurt feelings or a child is unable to speak out for themselves, the

adult should then intervene. Sometimes, speaking and then walking away, is not enough to

help work out a situation. If a child’s feelings are hurt, or a child is at risk of physically being

hurt, adults need to step in and help to change the situation. EG. Children are sitting around

a crafts table, one child says to another who is trying to join in; “You can’t come and play

here, there is no space”, the teacher who observes this could take an extra chair, and say,

“This is a shared classroom where everyone is equal, here we go, come and join in now”.

Imagine the feelings of the child who has taken the courage to try and join in.

Effective communication at an appropriate level

Using a child friendly tone, turning activities into songs and games, making eye contact,

showing love and empathy towards children.

Increased acceptance and tolerance of diverse personalities and cultures

Each child has a different culture, personality and way of being brought up. Understanding

each child in their own right is essential if we want to nurture them and encourage their

social development. We need to understand their likes, passions, fears, anxieties and ways.

This can be done by observing, by talking to those who know them best, by communicating

in creative ways, such as artwork, music, conversations.

Identifying Social Skills Deficits

Before determining the best means to help a child develop better social skills, it is important

to understand specifically what a child can and can't do. It is crucial to assess whether the

child is aware of what it means to behave in an acceptable social manner.

Children may experience difficulty performing a skill:

Due to feelings and life experiences

Internal or external factors interfere with the child demonstrating a learned skill

appropriately. Perhaps a change in their life, feeling sad or confused, anxiety, hyperactivity,

boredom, can interfere with demonstration of positive and confident social skills, even though the skills have been taught and learned.

Due to lack of knowledge

The child does not know the skills or does not discriminate when a skill is appropriate. For

example, a child grabs a pencil from a peer in class when she needs one because she does

not know how to appropriately ask to borrow it.

Consistently despite knowledge

The child knows how to perform the skills but fails to do so consistently or at an acceptable

level of competence. For example, although the child understands that he should not splash

another child with water, and does not do this most of the time, he will sometimes need to

be reminded that this is not nice if the other child does not like it.

To a sufficient degree or level of strength

The child knows how to perform the skill and is motivated to perform, but struggles due to

lack of practice or a need to work on being more assertive, and speaking in a more confident

voice. For example, a child has learned what to say and do when confronted with bullying

behaviour, but his/her responses are not yet strong enough to be successful.

NB. Teachers and parents must take advantage of incidental learning, in which naturally

occurring behaviours or events are used to teach and reinforce appropriate social behaviour.

Adults can reinforce demonstrated positive social skills by praising children when they behave correctly, or offer alternatives to poor decisions to teach the more appropriate behaviour. It may be necessary when working with children who have particular difficulty, to

intentionally "catch" them doing the right thing or devise situations in which they

can make a good choice. This positive reinforcement has been proven to be more

useful in confidence building rather than focusing on the negative behaviours

children may demonstrate.

It is also crucial to provide children with immediate performance feedback. Add punitive

strategies only if the positive approach is unsuccessful and the behaviour is of a serious

and/or dangerous nature.

It is also essential to be mindful of our choice of words and language. Choosing positive

words and expressions over negative ones can create a more pleasant environment and can

encourage children to feel better about themselves and want to listen to us. EG. “I don’t

know what that picture is supposed to look like” VS. “What have you drawn there?” OR

“That’s not where you put that apron” VS. “Thanks for trying to pack that away, remember

the apron goes on that hook”.

Some advice for parents and teachers:

Have a pep talk

Always prep your child before entering social settings, letting him know where you're going and how you expect him to behave. If your child is going through a hitting stage, reiterate “no hitting” before you arrive at your destination. If there is an altercation over a toy, give the children a few minutes to try to work it out before you step in.

Teach them to empathise

If not wanting to play with another child, lack of sharing or taking turns becomes a bigger

struggle, empathy is a good way of helping children to understand why this could be wrong.

Ask “How would you feel if someone said that to you?” Over time children will learn the rules of the playground, and we can step back and watch their social life flourish.

Model the behaviour you want to teach. Children will learn better from the interaction

if we are calm, firm and gentle and choose positive words EG. Should we say; “Don’t

leave a mess like that on the floor!” or “What you made is beautiful, now please would you

pack everything away”.

Give each child information and help interpret the response he is getting. Tell him, "It hurts

when you hit someone. The other child is crying because she doesn’t like to be hit."

Support the victim. Encourage the child who was hurt to speak up, to say, "No,"or "Don’t hurt me." Also, help the child make things right with the child he hurt. Maybe he can bring

the other child some ice or a blanket or something else that will comfort him.


Some ideas to put into place in school to encourage social connections:

This game idea teaches children the importance of learning people's names, with the

understanding that naming someone makes it easier to get their attention when you want to

speak to them. In a preschool classroom setting, ask children to sit in a circle. Give one child

a ball. Ask her to name another student in the circle and then roll that ball to that child, once

she has named someone correctly. The recipient should say something about himself once he has the ball, which can be what type of sport he likes or what his family pet is.

Remind children that it is okay not to know the names perfectly at first, but it is important to

try, out of respect for their fellow students and to achieve better communication. Ask the

children to pay attention to the details, interests, likes and dislikes of their fellow students,

because these details can help them to remember names better.

Buddy system: each child has a partner for the day and they are encouraged to look after

each other and only say nice things to each other for the whole day

Working in small groups: teacher thinks about which children are similar in personality,

gender, likes, abilities, and puts them into small groups of 2-4 children to work on an exciting project together for part of the day.

Often a child will want to play with others, but may not have the initiative or the right words

to express this. Guide these individuals by asking questions before outside time, or during

inside play and other social times. Ask the child whom he would like to play with or partner

with, and help him come up with ways to accomplish this. Work together to come up with

appropriate words to initiate conversation and join in the fun. Some simple questions to ask

may be: “I also love to build towers, can I join you”, “ Do you want to come and build this

tower with me”, “I need some help making my picture, will you come and help me”.

Maximize each child’s positive personality traits. Pair up the children, bearing in mind who

would be suitable to pair up with whom. Ask the children to draw some pictures about what

they like about the other child. Continue to swop partners until a few children have each

shared their positive feelings about some of the others. This could be turned into a booklet

for each child to keep. Remember to keep things under control and only allow positive comments. Examples can be given to younger children EG. You are funny, kind, clever,

pretty, creative, imaginative, a good mixer, a good painter, good at numbers.

Some questions we can ask ourselves:

  • What is special and brilliant about this child?

  • What are they good at?

  • How can I encourage this in them?

  • How can I feed this back to the important adults in their lives? I.e. Parents, teachers, family

  • members

  • How can my choice of words impact on building their self confidence? EG. Do I say “Why

  • don’t you rather write it like this?” or “That’s really good, next time let’s try and also practice

  • doing it like that.”

  • Is my tone positive and loving towards each child?

  • Do I see their individual strengths and encourage them to be the best they can be?




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