Social Skills – ideas to help
Model the behaviour you want to see
There is no better way for the child to learn than to follow the way you react to and with others. How you interact with others allows the child to observe good social skills and learn them from you in a protected environment. It is also useful for him/her to watch others and be shown what is appropriate.
Use the television or DVD’s to show him/her this. Allow him/her to tell you what he/she thinks is right or wrong; this will help him/her become more aware of what good social skills are.
Explain to the child about social distance – an elbow’s width sitting next to someone, and an arm’s length if he/she is standing in front of you, are simple measures you can teach. Check on eye contact – does he/she look at someone when talking to them, at all or too much?
Does he/she let others know that he/she is listening to them with nods of the head, or ‘mms’ and ‘yes’ etc? If he/she doesn’t, they need to see that others will think they don’t care about what they are saying. Practise starting and ending a conversation. Pick a topic or hobby he/she enjoys.
Work out a few topics that he/she can talk about in different social settings and let him/her practise with you, for example, football, TV programme or a holiday.
Let him/her know when they have behaved inappropriately. You will need to be explicit when explaining what they have said and why it was wrong, and what could be done to improve the way the situation is handled next time. Do it at a time when you are both relaxed and he/she will be more receptive.
Practise the behaviour
Let the child practise with close family members who will be more lenient if mistakes are made. It must be agreed that they will not laugh at the child practising, otherwise any benefit will be dashed immediately, and make it harder to try again. They should not criticise him/her, but praise their efforts.
Good social skills stem from confidence in ourselves. If the child has been bullied, they will feel bruised and battered psychologically, and will require their confidence to be built up again.
Praise effort not output
Appreciate how hard they are trying
Praise their creativity
Tell others in front of them how pleased you are with them
Say it and show it
Keep encouraging the child, even for small efforts
Practise in the ‘real’ world
When they have gained confidence, let them join a club or activity that they fancy. They will have a topic to talk about which will help to launch them into the new social setting. It is also a test to see if they can make friends and keep them successfully. Consider they may fail and then need building up again.
Check the level of success
Talk to the child when they have been to school, youth club or other social activities and ask them how it went. They need to talk about why it was successful or not, so they can understand how to improve next time.
This all takes time. Success breeds success, but the opposite is also true. You may need to be very specific with the instructions you give to begin with for the child to be able to know what to do. However this does make it harder to be able to adapt, but it may be the only route to success. They need to see the clear steps to take before it becomes automatic.
Conversational skills – general activities
Look out for pictures, stories in magazines or on the television – discuss these with the child. How would it make you feel in that situation, and how does it make them feel?
Sit down together at a mealtime at least once a week and discuss what has happened to everyone. Go around the table and let everybody contribute, however young.
What traditions do you have as a family – at Christmas time does one child always turn on the lights, do you have a special meal on birthdays, is Sunday night sloppy food night? Most of us have traditions.
Talk about them with the child and create some new ones.
Practise saying one nice thing about everyone in the family.
Play a game of charades where each person has to act out a feeling – e.g. anxious, happy, sad – and then use this as an opportunity to talk about when and where you may feel like this. As a family decide on a project, for example, going on holiday. Divide up the tasks – where to go, where to stay, places of interest to see etc. and then make the time for everyone to feed back their information.
Play a game together – a game of cards or a board game – you have to talk to one another and also practise winning and losing.
Make your family shield – decide what should go on it. Each member could make their own and then discuss afterwards why they have chosen certain items to go on it.
Talk about some of the ‘harder’ topics – sex, drugs and relationships. They may avoid this but they need to have practised and understood what they feel and understand.
Read the headlines together, watch the news and discuss what they think about what is happening for that day.
Ask the child about their day – the best bits and the worst. With a younger child you could use a smiley chart and let them choose which one they feel like. An older child could give a score out of ten for example.
Invite friends of yours home and let the child help you, passing around the biscuits or making them a cup of tea for example.
Drama is an excellent medium to practise social skills – use puppets and masks.