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What are social skills & why are they important?

Social skills are are the skills we use everyday to communicate and interact with others. For many children, social skills present as a challenge at school and home. They include verbal and non-verbal communication, including speech, body language and facial expressions. Strong social skills  are demonstrated when one knows how to behave in social settings, and understand implied communication with others. 

 

Social skills are important in maintaining friendships and positive interactions with others. They are crucial in handling challenging situations effectively, recognising and managing emotions in themselves and others. Similarly, they are also involved in regulating behaviours through thoughtful decision making and reflecting on feelings. 

                                                                            

                                                                       Click on the image for social skills in Action
                                                                                                               (Kids matter, 2015)

How to tell if a child experiences difficulties with social skills...

 

If a child experiences difficulties with social skills, they may: 

  • Avoid eye contact

  • Lack turn taking abilities 

  • Struggle with body language i.e. standing too close/far

  • Difficulty interpreting non verbal communication including facial expressions, tone and body gestures

  • Difficulty asking appropriate questions 

  • Difficulty responding appropriately in changing social circumstances 

  • Difficulty with executive functioning in play and social situations 

  • Difficulty describing and responding to other emotions and also regulating their own 

  • Difficulty initiating and responding to joint attention

  • Experience difficulties understanding hidden social cues

If you have any concerns about your child, please consult your GP or paediatrician. 

 

Problems that may occur if a child has social skill difficulties...

 

  • Behavioural problems: a child may refuse to engage in social engagements e.g. parties/group sports

  • Sensory processing: a child may have difficulties focusing and maintaining focus due to difficulties processing information from the environment 

  • School work: a child may experience difficulties understanding work concepts and imaginative tasks 

  • Language: a child may have difficulty understanding conversation and expressing themselves through varied forms of communication

  • Self regulation: a child may experience challenges with maintaining and changing behaviours, emotions, attention and activity levels 

Activities to help improve social skills 

  • Practice pretend play and role play

  • Use board or card games to practice winning and losing. Teach phrases such as "you win some, you loose some" "better luck next time" that they can use with their friends. 

  • Visual aids such as a turn taking clock may be used to support turn taking 

  • Encourage eye contact through motivating and exciting activities of their choice i.e. make masks

  • Use bubbles to attract your child's attention and encourage them to look at you to blow more 

  • Encourage imitation through dance, movement and rhythmic songs i.e. Head, shoulders..

  • Using a learning story to teach your child exceptions of personal space i.e. standing an arms distance away when talking to a friend or when sharing a game, its okay to be closer

  • Ask your child to identify facial expressions and body gestures at school and home.   Discuss the meaning of these and the emotion they were feeling. 

  • Practice using phrases with and without sarcasm to help your child identify tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. Video them and ask them to identify the differences

  • Teach your child a few simple "Knock Knock" jokes. Practice these around the dinner table and see if your child can identify what is funny; the basic principle of joke telling.

  • Set up play dates with other children or siblings to encourage co-operative and pretend play such as dress ups, building cubby house in the living room and arts/crafts   

Note to parents!

  • Be involved: find out how your child's school has implemented social and emotional learning. 

  • Be a model: model social skills and show your child how they work. Children will learn from you. 

  • Talk about feelings: help your child express and explore their feelings

  • Be a guide:turn difficulties into learning opportunities

  • Acknowledge and appreciate: provide feedback and praise good behaviours 

  • Provide a safe place to play: provide safe indoor and out door play space. ​

  • Give them free time: don't over schedule and allow them time to create their own play   

 

Current Evidence Based social and emotional skills programs 

  • Children aged 3-6 years: The Play and Learning Socialise Program (PALS) 

  • Children aged 8-12 years: Secret Agent Society (SAS) 

  • Teens and young adults: The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational skills (PEERS) 

References: 

       Johnsson, G. (2018). A guide for developing social and emotional skills (1st ed.). Sydney: Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect).

       Kids Matter. (2018). Social and emotional learning: suggestions for families. Retrieved from https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/mental-health-matters/social-and-emotional-learning/suggestions-for-families

       Kid Sense. (2018). Social Skills - Kid Sense Child Development. Retrieved from https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/play-and-social-skills/social-skills/

       Menillio, M. (2016). A look into Social Skills: Kindy and Sibling play - OTFC. Retrieved from http://occupationaltherapychildren.com.au/a-look-into-social-skills-kindy-and-sibling-play/

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