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Growing up isn’t always as easy as we might remember. The lack of stress from paying bills and holding a job can be nice, but a lack of power and full understanding in a world that doesn’t acknowledge the rights of children can feel especially scary for youngsters.

Kids are like sponges—absorbing everything that they watch their parents and role models do and say. This can be a good or a bad thing, and oftentimes a mix of both.

Why Social, Relational, Emotional Development Matters

While we know that no one person is perfect and we cannot protect our kids from everything, we surely want to do our best as parents to help them achieve their greatest outcomes in life. This feat can feel especially difficult to accomplish when parenting an at-risk teen who has experienced childhood trauma. The wounds of adolescence can really sting, but did you also know that they can influence a person’s social and relational competence into adulthood?

The social, relational and/or emotional development of children is an important factor in determining their likelihood of acquiring healthy social skills, life skills, mental health, and overall wellbeing as adults.

The development of such skills relies heavily on a child’s relationship with their primary caregivers, or attachment figures. Such skill development can become impacted when a child is faced with excessive stress or life struggles, such as childhood trauma or family conflict.

The quality of parental relationships can impact the social and relational competence of kids as they grow into adults. When these relationships become disrupted, limited, or cut off, there may be a greater risk for the development of more serious issues later on in life.

Luckily, research has determined five protective factors that parents can provide their kids in an effort to influence their outcomes as they relate to the risk for being neglected and abused, and also for developing the resiliency and life skills needed to succeed in life as successful, healthy, and competent adults.

Factors that Influence Social, Relational Competence

Childhood is  a delicate time for youngsters, as the foundations that are laid will carry forward influentially into the health, overall wellbeing, and even academic outcomes of a child as he or she progresses into adulthood.

Specific factors and dynamics of a child’s family unit or environment that can come into play include the involvement of both parents in the life of the child, the quality of the relationship between the child and parents or guardians, as well as the relationship between a child’s mother and father or caretakers.

Research has linked social and relational, or emotional, competence with:

  • Cognitive Development
  • Academic Performance
  • Mental Health
  • Language Skills

The factors found to influence these include:

  • Self-Esteem (feeling good about oneself in general)
  • Self-Confidence (ability to explore new things and take on challenges)
  • Self-Regulation/Self-Control (controlling impulses, delaying gratification, acting appropriately around others, reacting or acting appropriately in accordance with one’s environment or situation at hand, etc.)
  • Self-Efficacy (the belief that one is capable of achieving their goals)
  • Executive Functioning (able to focus on a task at hand and push out distractions)
  • Persistency (being able to get back on the horse after falling off)
  • Empathy (understanding the feelings of others and responding to their emotions or rights with care)
  • Patience or Delayed Gratification (learning to wait for results)
  • A Sense of Agency (being about to plan and carry out actions and tasks that are meaningful to one’s life)
  • Conflict Resolution (the ability to resolve issues peacefully and diplomatically)
  • Social Skills (making friends and getting along with others in social situations)
  • Communication Skills (being able to understand and express a variety of emotions, both positive and negative)
  • Ethics/Morality (having or knowing/learning a compass of right vs. wrong as it relates to equality and the rights of oneself and others)

According to research, consistent relationships with caring and attentive adults who promote the above dimensions are ideal for developing healthy social and relational competence in kids.

How Parents Can Actively Promote Social, Relational Competence

In order to help your children develop healthy social, relational competence, there are a variety of things that parents can do. Here are six parenting initiatives:

1. Creating an environment in which children feel safe to express their feelings

This means that kids should not feel shamed or chastised for expressing their feelings but supported and accepted. Some emotional intelligence training may also be required, such as an emotions list.

2. Displaying the ability to express or model empathy and be emotionally responsive

Showing kids that you care when things impact them for the positive or negative is key. Also showing empathy for others as well. This will help instill the same qualities in children as they develop into adults.

3. Setting clear boundaries and expectations

Consistent, and strong boundaries are best for kids to help them feeling safe and to give them a baseline for knowing what is acceptable or unacceptable in terms of how they treat themselves and others.

4. Encouraging, modeling, and reinforcing social skills

Being polite and respectful to others in social settings is key for helping children develop respect for themselves and others. Such skills include sharing, saying please, taking turns, etc.

5. Separating emotions from actions

This entails instilling in kids the right to be upset, but that it isn’t okay to react in violence or harsh words toward others or oneself when upset. Teaching kids to have healthy outlets for expressing anger such as physical activity or creative ventures is helpful. Parents can model this through their own actions.

6. Supporting the development of problem-solving skills

This may be done through vignettes and/or hypothetical situations that allow kids to work through what they would do in specific situations.

Pro Tip:

It may seem daunting or overwhelming to try to implement the above initiatives all at once. One way to help is by reaching out for community support and allowing positive influential role models in your child’s life to help. Parents are not perfect, and it’s impossible to be the perfect role model for your child at all times. Showing yourself and your child some grace from time to time while keeping boundaries intact can go a long way.

Parents Need Support, Too

If you should ever feel like your family could use a bit of extra support as it relates to parenting, or helping your family and child develop greater social, relational competence, it may help to seek the assistance of a trained professional. Idaho Youth Ranch is comprised of experienced, licensed professionals who are trained to help equip kids and teens with the social and relational skills they need to be successful adults.

We provide a variety of family therapy, teen therapy, and equine therapy services. To learn more, contact us today. We’d love to hear from you!

Click here to read the 5 Reasons Taking Care of Yourself Makes You a More Effective Parent

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