Relationship Skills

How can I help my child . . . ?

  • make friends and maintain healthy relationships 
  • be aware of their own impact on others
  • communicate and interact effectively 
  • solve interpersonal problems effectively
  • recognize and avoid peer pressure

What are Relationship Skills? 

Friendships and social interactions often become the main focus in a teen’s life. Teens want to connect with peers, make new friends, and find a friend group where they feel like they belong. Many also begin to form romantic relationships at this time. They may choose hanging out with their peers over spending time with family (or just about any other activity!). 

Some teens thrive on social activity and having lots of friends. Others may enjoy spending time on their own or with a small handful of friends. And others who are shy or less self-assured may want to connect with peers, but may be afraid or unsure of how to start the ball rolling. 

Children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, or other forms of neurodiversity may have a hard time making peer connections, recognizing social cues, and knowing how to react appropriately in social situations.

Friendships can bring fun, a sense of belonging, and an opportunity for teens to relax and be themselves. On the flip side, teen relationships–or feeling a lack of social connection–can also be a source of confusion, anxiety, or pain. 

Knowing how to make and keep friends, handle the ups and down of social life, manage conflicts, communicate effectively, and maintain healthy relationships are all part of developing good relationship skills.

Good relationship skills involve 

  • communicating appropriately in different situations and with different people 
  • understanding how one’s own behavior and attitudes affect others
  • being a good listener
  • working cooperatively with others
  • resolving conflicts effectively 
  • resisting peer pressure 
  • standing up for themselves and communicating their needs in a relationship

These skills are closely linked to self-awareness and social awareness skills.

Why do Relationship Skills Matter? 

We all need relationships. Human beings are hard-wired to seek connections and form bonds with others. Research shows that when we feel a sense of connectedness and belonging, we feel happier and more confident, and we do better at school, work, and in life. 

Parents of young children often remind them to “use their words” and “play nice.” Even when they’re older, teens (and many adults!) are still learning and practicing these skills. They still need reminders of how to communicate respectfully and get along with others. Studies have shown that relationship skills can be taught and learned at any age (even adults!).

Relationship skills are critical life skills that help teens: 

  • make friends and maintain healthy, respectful relationships
  • feel connected, happy and confident
  • stay motivated and feel positive about school
  • show leadership
  • express their ideas and feelings clearly
  • handle social challenges and solve interpersonal conflicts
  • be successful in school and at work throughout their whole lives

https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/communicating-relationships/connecting/social-skills-for-teens-with-asd

Take this brief survey to identify your child’s strengths and areas for further development in the area of relationship skills.

Character traits / skills
My teen…
Definitely describes my teenSomewhat describes my teen Does notdescribe my teen
has one or more close peer friendships 
enjoys making friends and new social connections
gets along with different types of people
cooperates and works well with others in a group
makes an effort to include others 
is generally kind, caring, and helpful toward others 
shows concern for others and their feelings
is generous about sharing 
lets go of insults or mean behavior directed toward them, without taking it overly personally
appreciates others’ skills,  talents, and achievements and compliments or congratulates them
shows interest and listens to what others have to say
is able to have meaningful conversations about a variety of topics
is able to talk and listen respectfully in order to work out problems or disagreements
takes responsibility and apologizes when they make a mistake or are in the wrong
forgives others who upset or hurt them
is able to stand up for themselves and others in a respectful way when necessary
resists peer pressure and encourages positive behavior in others
Review your answers to the survey. Were there any traits or skills you marked, “Somewhat describes my teen” or “Does not describe my teen”?  If so, there’s no cause for worry. The great news is these skills can be taught, even to older kids and teens, and you can help! Read [this section] to learn how.  

You are the most influential person in your child’s life. They need your support to understand how to create healthy, respectful relationships. Through your relationships with family, friends, and others around you, you can be a role model for how to connect, communicate, and show caring and respect. 

Start the Conversation:

  • Talk openly and often: A good conversation is like a game of  tennis–it’s 2-sided and goes back and forth. Try to talk to your teen daily. Start real conversations and model good communication skills:  Ask a simple question to open a conversation ( How’s _____ going? / How was ______? / What do you think about …? ) What are you planning … ? )  Really listen totheir response. Ask follow-up questions to check your understanding, show them that you’ve heard them, and keep the conversation going. 
  • Talk about traits and qualities they like or admire in their friends: “Who do you enjoy hanging out with?”  “You and (Friend) seem to get along really well. What’s she like?” 
  • Help them recognize their own impacts (both positive and negative) on others: “Your sister really appreciated it when you …”;  “I wonder how your dad felt when you said …”;  I bet (your friend) felt happy when you…” 
  • Teach them to talk through problems and conflicts respectfully: Rather than bottling things up or sweeping problems under the rug, try. “Can we talk about what happened this morning?” “  “I felt hurt when you ignored me and walked away…;” 
  • Emphasize compromise: Teach them to find middle ground.  “Let’s keep talking and see if we can come to an agreement.” 
  • Focus on what you’ve noticed: If you worry about peer pressure or negative peer influences, avoid expressing your opinion in a judgemental way. Instead, describe what you’ve noticed or ask questions: “It sounds like (Friend) doesn’t respect you very much.”  “How did it feel when (Friend) did that?” 
  • Have a conversation about trust and consent: Make sure your teen understands that whatever happens between people in a relationship–sex, sharing private information, posting photos on social media, etc.–must be agreed upon by everyone involved.

Tips for teaching your teen relationship skills: 

Conversation Starters: Create a list of fun and interesting conversation-starter questions (or find and print one online) to get to know your teen and help them practice their communication skills. Keep a copy near the dinner table or in the car–wherever you’re likely to spend time with your teen. Have your teen pick a question, and see how long you can keep the conversation going with follow-up questions. The following are sample questions from http://www.markmerrill.com/the-best-conversation-starters-for-teenagers/

  1. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you travel to?
  2. Who is your best friend?
  3. What would your perfect day consist of?
  4. What is your favorite memory of our family?
  5. What qualities are you looking for in a romantic partner or spouse?
  6. If you could be any animal, what would you be?
  7. What is your most embarrassing moment?
  8. If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would you meet?
  9. What is your dream job?
  10. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  11. What was your favorite book when you were little?
  12. What is your earliest memory?
  13. What is the first thing on your bucket list?
  14. Would you rather live on the beach or in the mountains?
  15. If you could star in any movie, what movie would it be?

The”Sandwich Technique:” Confronting a friend about a problem can be hard, even for adults. Most teens would rather avoid it altogether. “Sandwiching” the feedback between positive comments can help your teen give others feedback and stand up for themselves when they need to:  

1) Start with a positive comment or a compliment. “You’ve been a really good friend to me. ” 
2) Start with “I” and describe the problem and how they felt.“I felt hurt when I found you told others the private information I shared with you.” 
3) Finish with a positive comment.“I trust you and I know you wouldn’t hurt me on purpose.” 

Read and discuss the following article with your teen:

https://choices.scholastic.com/issues/2019-20/110119/the-7-types-of-toxic-friendships.html

Read and discuss the following scenarios with your teen:

https://choices.scholastic.com/issues/2017-18/020118/how-to-be-a-good-friend.html

Your teen’s school along with local community organizations and other parents are great places to connect with for additional ways to support your teen’s social development: 

  • Use your child’s interests to help them make new social connections. Find out what your child’s school, local community organizations, nearby area, or online organizations have to offer related to your teen’s passions and interests. Whether it’s sports, music, math, science, theater, art, or something else–you can help them find peers out there with similar interests. 
  • Learn how/whether your child’s school specifically addresses relationship skills, and how they help students connect with peers, make friends, and support the development of peer relationships. Ask whether they offer any curriculum or programming specific to social emotional learning. These types of programs may be offered as extracurriculars or after school programs  and may be called “soft skills,” or “leadership skills.” 
  • Learn what your child’s school and other organizations in the local community have to offer in terms of community service and volunteer opportunities. 
  • Join a local parenting group on social media.

Explore these resources for more ideas on how to support your teen’s development of relationship skills.

Act for Youth: Helping Youth Build Relationship Skills

http://actforyouth.net/sexual_health/community/adulthood/relationships.cfm

Social Skills for Teens with Autism

https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/promoting-teen-social-skills

Social Media and Teen Relationships

https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2015/08/06/chapter-4-social-media-and-friendships/

Strengthening Teens Social and Conversation Abilities

https://www.heysigmund.com/strengthening-teens-social-conversation-abilities/

Toastmasters for Teens Youth Leadership Program

https://www.toastmasters.org/education/youth-leadership-program

Parenting Great Kids Podcast: Conversation Starters for Dads and Daughters

YouTube Video: Relationship Smarts

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