Q: My daughter is having problems getting along with the girls in her class. I'm afraid that she is behind in her social skills. What are some ways we can help her gain the necessary social skills to better deal with peer situations as they arise?
A: Dr. Cara Marker Daily, Pediatric Psychologist, Daily Behavioral Health
In today’s world, many children have difficulty “fitting in” with others. If you feel she is behind in her social skills, it may be beneficial to have her evaluated by someone, such as a psychologist or speech/language pathologist, who can assess her social communication skills. Some red flags may include difficulty with:
• sharing interests with others
• making and keeping friends
• understanding feelings
• initiating and maintaining conversations
• understanding facial expressions and gestures
Regardless, there are some social skills that all children need to learn, which are important to function in daily life. These skills include:
• listening to others
• following steps in directions
• following rules
• ignoring distractions
• asking for help
• taking turning in talking
• getting along with others
• staying calm when upset
• accepting responsibility for your behavior
• doing nice things for others
Teaching social skills can be done through various ways. The best place to teach social skills is at home just by modeling. Try showing your child that you take the time to listen and are nice to others, that you stay calm when you are upset, that you take responsibility for mistakes, and that you ask for help when you need it. I often find myself telling parents that the most important thing is for us to teach our kids to love others, which starts at home. Social skills, not academics, are what will help individuals succeed in today’s world.
When teaching social skills, it is also helpful to normalize to your child that interacting with others can be difficult and may even cause anxiety. Let them know that most people get nervous or have difficulty with something in their life. Afterward, give your child examples of social situations that may be difficult and then role-play those situations with her. Next, have her practice those skills in her natural environment with siblings, peers, and in her classroom.
Other helpful techniques include the use of Social Stories ™, which can be found on the web at carolgraysocialstories.com. Also, using age-appropriate bibliotherapy books (e.g., how to make friends) are helpful, which you can find at the library. If these types of approaches are not working, then find a local social skills group, where your child can learn social skills with the help of a professional.