Every child, with his/her unique strengths, learns in a different way. Some children excel at math, while others struggle. Some children learn to read with ease, while others find it to be frustrating and difficult. One child may learn the proper way to say /k/ while others need to be specifically taught place, manner, and voicing. Social skills are no different.
Children who have difficulties understanding social situations often do not see the “rules” on the playground. They are typically the children that have to “pull their clip”, “go below the line”, or get a letter or phone call home. Often times, these children need specific instruction to learn what their peers, parents, and teachers expect from them. To those of us who have never had trouble understanding social expectations, this may seem absurd.
What we know is every behavior happens for a reason. For example, one child hits another during recess. He/she may not intend to be mean but really is looking for a way to be part of the group. Hitting has been a way this student has gotten a response in the past to get another child’s attention. When we take the time to teach that child appropriate ways to enter and exit play with another would help prevent him/her from hitting in the future. The child has now learned skills and has a “toolbox” to pull from instead of hitting. Another example is for the child who consistently comes home with a “bad” report (clip pulling, red cards, etc.). Why is this behavior happening and what skills need to be taught instead of “managed”? Usually the behavior happens because the child is receiving some type of feedback before, during, or after. What would happen if we understood the behavior, taught them a new way to receive their feedback, and then offered positive reinforcement every single time we saw them do it? When we help children learn these skills in a non-judgemental way, we begin to see an improvement in their behavior and an increase in self-awareness.
The process of teaching children how to think socially does not change behavior overnight. Instead, it is a slow and deep process that requires time and patience. It also requires a village. When a therapist, teacher, etc. is teaching a child social skills, it’s important to carry those skills into his/her other environments like school and home. Communication is key. Communicating with your child’s teacher and school and letting them know what he/she is learning and how they can help support your child during the school day is important. If you sign your child up for a social skills class, please ask how you can learn the vocabulary. Also ask how they communicate with your child’s teacher. When there is a lack of communication outside of the social skills group room, then you will typically only see improvement within the social skill group but limited progress in other environments. One sentence from the Social Thinking! curriculum really stood out to us. It said “Generalization is not an endpoint; it is simply part of the journey.” We need to make sure the child has adults who support him/her on the journey in learning social skills.
Wendy and Christina