What are social skills?
Social skills are the skills we use to interact with each other through speech, body language and gestures.
These skills are include many factors such as:
- Eye contact – looking at the person you are speaking to
- Facial expression – eg. Smiling, frowning to express interest or disapproval
- Social distance – being aware of ‘personal space’ and appropriateness of touch
- Voice quality – volume, pitch, rate of speech, clarity and content.
- Social greetings and farewells
- Expressing feelings, asking questions, listening, showing interest, responding to questions
- Conversations – following rules, sharing, compromising, helping others, taking turns, apologising, complimenting others
- Playing/working with others – team activities, sharing, turn taking, understanding peer interaction
- Gaining attention/ asking for help – communicative acts such as appropriately requesting clarification or information
- Coping with conflict – controlling aggression, dealing with anger, accepting criticism
- Grooming and hygiene – eg. going to the bathroom (close the door, wash our hands), wiping our nose (use a tissue)
Social skills difficulties
Many children experience difficulty with social skills. Approximately one in five children in each classroom have social and/or behaviour problems significant enough to interfere with their ability to make friends.
Often children with learning difficulties may not possess the language skills to interact appropriately with their peers. They can have difficulties both in the classroom and the playground.
They may experience difficulties with:
- solving social problems
- predicting consequences for certain behaviours
- interpreting or inferring language used in conversation
- using complex social interactions successfully, such as persuasion, negotiation, criticism
- being aware of their listener in conversation
- tolerance for frustration and failure
- being accepted by their peers
- adapting to new social situations
- interpreting and using non verbal language
How can I help my child with their social skills?
Many people are involved in the process of providing children with the necessary skills to interact appropriately with the people around them. These include parents and/or caregivers, peers, teachers and learning support staff, psychologists and speech pathologists.
Although some children will ‘pick up’ these skills as they progress through school, most children will benefit from being directly taught appropriate social skills. This can be done in a specific program as well as using naturally occurring opportunities throughout the day to both teach and reinforce appropriate behaviour.
The focus of social skills training can be:
- therapeutic to provide positive skills, attitudes and strategies to replace negative or ineffective ones; and/or
- educational and preventative for children with a reasonable level of skill already to enhance friendships, resilience, problem solving and conflict resolution skills.
Training methods can include role-playing, modelling, homework assignments to practice skills and/or reinforcement of skills.
Many programs are designed around a cognitive-behaviour model. This approach encourages the student to identify the problem, recognise the emotions involved and analyse the situation and consequences of their actions in various social situations
A six-step approach provides the framework for many successful social skills training programs. The approach is as follows.
- Definition Describe the skill to be taught – it can be demonstrated by video, pictures, cartoons or puppet shows. Discuss the importance of the skill.
- Model the skill – Break down the skill into simple components and demonstrate these clearly.
- Imitation and rehearsal – The student practices the skill in a structured situation
- Feedback – should be immediate, specific and positive, for example saying “that’s better, you looked at me and smiled!”.
- Generalisation – Where possible, try to create a situation in the classroom or at home where the skill can be generalised. Alternatively, practice with someone outside the group.
- Intermittent Reinforcement – Watch for instances of the student applying the skills without prompting. Provide descriptive praise and reward.
How can Learning Links help?
Learning Links offers a range of services that can help children to develop their social skills.
Our psychologists work closely with children and families using evidence-based therapies to address concerns with social skills. Our programs include:
- Psychological Therapy – We offer one-on-one psychological therapy to help children build social skills, awareness of behaviour and strategies for coping at school. Sessions are offered face-to-face in our centres or as telehealth sessions via video or phone. Read more >
- Brick-By-Brick™ – This NDIS registered small group program aims to help children with social difficulties, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), to improve and practice their social interaction and communication skills. Suitable for children aged 5-12 years. Read more >
- Superflex® – Designed for children aged 7-10 years, this weekly small group program turns children into superheroes to develop greater understanding of social thinking concepts so they can cope in a range of situations and make friends. Read more >
- PALS (Playing And Learning to Socialise) – This is an evidence-based social skills program run during the school holidays that teaches children to develop socially skilled behaviours that will help them develop friendships and get along with others. The program aims to: help children relate to others, teach children constructive problem solving skills for social situations and promote skills for school adjustment. This program is suitable for 4-6 year olds. Read more >
Our speech pathologists will help children express themselves more clearly when talking with friends and adults as well as understanding the language they will hear in the playground and classroom. Children can be taught how to speak in clearer, more complete sentences, understand instructions, ask and comprehend questions, explain and listen, and build vocabulary to enable improved conversation with peers. Read more >