Research indicates that one of the most fundamental skills for success is social skills (i.e. communication, play skills, perspective-taking, empathy, self-control, confidence, and independence). Most children learn social skills through everyday interactions with peers and adults; however, some children require more specific instruction than others. If you begin to notice that your child’s social skills are not as strong as some of their peers, do not worry. Social skills can be acquired through direct instruction and additional support.
Here are a few helpful tips to improve your child’s social skills:
- Make connections with school friends at home. Having play dates is a great way to encourage extra communication and interaction with peers.
- Join extra-curricular school activities that are of interest to your child. For example, many sports help children practice and understand turn-taking, the perspectives of others, dealing with winning vs. losing, team work, good sportsmanship, and finding common interests with peers. Additionally, sports can improve self-confidence and foster a sense of belonging.
- Create social stories! This is a great way to prepare your child for a situation that may be particularly challenging. Social stories work to improve the child’s understanding of a behavior or event by explaining it ahead of time and providing suggestions for appropriate responses to the situation. You can find many pre-made social stories online that can be modified or adjusted to suit the individual needs of your child.
- Role-play scenarios that have occurred or will occur in your child’s life. Role-playing is a fun and effective way to make your child feel more comfortable with past or potential social situations in their life. For example, if your child is nervous about giving a speech in front of the class, s/he can practice multiple scenarios with you as the audience. Make sure to set up both positive and negative reactions from the audience to ensure that they are prepared. You may set up a scenario where the audience is disruptive and provide your child with helpful strategies to navigate the situation. You can even role-play scenarios that have occurred in the past and discuss ways that your child could have or should have handled the situation differently so that they are prepared in case a similar situation arises in the future. Many social groups offer this type of therapy!
- Real Time Therapy– We created this term to reflect the idea of simply stopping a situation in its tracks and using it as a teachable moment. For example, if you witness a social situation in which your child did not act appropriately, you can bring it to their attention immediately after the incident occurs, and then provide the child with suggestions on how to better handle the situation. This tends to be most impactful for many children, but be sure not to embarrass them in front of others, as this could have a negative impact.
By Alexandra Spira and Tara Swed of Social City