Help Kids Earn Confidence & Improve Social Skills

Student social skills image

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by Mike Keran

In addition to academic topics such as science, math, and language, social skills are one of the most important skill sets learned mostly by osmosis during the school day. Students learn how to interact with peers both within their grade and outside of it, as well as with authority figures in the form of teachers, parents, and other adults. There are complex power dynamics that occur even at the elementary level that stay with students throughout school and into their adult lives at the workplace.

The three challenges and exercises below are inspired by Dale Carnegie’s classic self-improvement book, How To Win Friends and Influence People. This is a book that has been admired as one of the best books ever written on social interaction and dynamics.

Challenge #1: No Complaining for Two Weeks

Principle: Don’t criticise, condemn, or complain.

This challenge has the power to change the lives of students significantly for the better. Complaining is a bad habit that can be stopped. There is a truth that states: we see what we look for. The act of complaining is a habit in which we point out things that are negative and bring them to the forefront of our attention, as well as to the attention of people around us. If students are able to eliminate this terrible habit, they will avoid being the victim and start pointing out the more positive things in their ives, leading to a more grateful attitude.

The challenge, which is inspired by A Complaint Free World, is very simple. The goal is to not complain once in two weeks.

  • Step 1: Have your class make their own “Complaint Free” wristbands. They are free to decorate them however they want.
  • Step 2: Put the wristband on whichever wrist your students prefer. The goal is to keep the wristband on the same wrist for two weeks straight.
  • Step 3: If your students complain, they are to remove the wristband from their current wrist and move it to the other wrist. Once they do this, they are to start from the very beginning.

The goal is to keep the wristband on the same wrist for two weeks in a row. What counts as a complaint? Here are two simple guidelines. A complaint is:

  1. A negatively emotionally charged observation about a situation or person.
  2. Whining about a situation or person.

Challenge #2: Talk About What They Like

Principle: Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.

This challenge is created to instill in students an attitude of genuine interest in others. This works as a great icebreaker in the beginning of class. Far too many people in the world talk to others from a standpoint of “what’s in it for me?”, and then wonder why nobody wants to help them out. When students learn to show that they truly care about what other people like, they will learn a fundamental skill that will take them far in life, regardless of what route they choose to take.

  • Step 1: Ask your students to each grab a pencil or pen and a piece of paper.
  • Step 2: Pair students randomly into groups of 2 and 3.
  • Step 3: Instruct students to play detective and figure out what their partners are interested in.
  • Step 4: After 5-10 minutes, ask your students to separate from their groups. At this point, tell them to research as much as they can about the topic that their partners are most interested in.
  • Step 5: After 10-15 minutes of research, ask your students to regroup. The goal here is for students to now talk to their partners about the topics that they are interested in. Allow them to get to know each other and start finding common interests

This exercise is a powerful way for students to learn that with a little bit of work, relationships can be built simply by taking the time to find out what other people are interested in.

Challenge #3: Say Names For a Week

Principle: Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

Far too many times in conversations, we address others using terms of endearment such as “buddy” or “man” or “honey”, but never use their names. While those terms are sweet and can feel warm, there is a special warmth that we each get when we hear our own name. In the classroom, it is not uncommon for giggles to resound through the classroom when a book being read aloud uses the name of a student in the class. Names are personal and using them is a strong social skill to have in their arsenal.

  • Step 1: Tell students that for a week, whenever students begin a new conversation with another person, they are to begin by using their name.
  • Step 2: Challenge students to not only use their peers’ names, but also to talk to as many different people as possible.
  • Step 3: Instruct them to track (1) the names and (2) the number of times they use each name.

This is a fun exercise that may get silly, but it is a great way to teach a memorable lesson. Encourage students to use names whenever possible when talking to others. This is a way to show that they respect others and they recognize others as individuals.


While social skills are extremely important in today’s world, they often are not a part of the curriculum itself. As such, it often falls on teachers to invent their own creative ways to help foster and grow these skills successfully, rather than leaving students to fend for themselves.. Communication is one of the most important skills and factors to successful careers and relationships. The three challenges and games above are great ways to instill great social skills into students in a fun and lighthearted way.


  1. Johnson

    March 17, 2016 at 3:14 am

    Of the three challenges, the first one is the most difficult to maintain considering kids are very intolerant compared to grown ups who with time learn how to control themselves and not react quickly to situations.

  2. وبمانی

    March 19, 2016 at 4:41 am

    from my experience “Don’t criticise, condemn, or complain.” this is most important thing when we are working with kids. thanks for great content

  3. Ahbez Eden

    April 5, 2016 at 6:46 am

    I really appreciate your points. Children who are confident always face challenges head on whereas on the other side children who have learning disabilities, require some social skills and activities to boost up their morale. There are many special education schools NYC that help them to develop the desired social skills.

  4. Madeline Wuellner

    April 25, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    I come from a business school education and feel that this skill is constantly needed to be imparted to students in elementary school/high school. It is a vital skill that is lost when students are being trained to give text book answers back to their teachers. Confidence will get them further in their future endeavor and working with others/being respectful and encouraging of others is something that is critical to the human experience. As simulated learning and more things become automated humans are going to desire more than ever to be surrounded by quality people. By at least accomplishing these three objective, students can substantially add to society.