Friday, April 20, 2012

10 tips for building social skills

Heather Gillum, PhD, CCC-SLP
Before we move on from social skills, I thought it would be nice to give some more examples of ways to work on social skills that will serve a new kindergartener well.  Here's my top 10--feel fee to chime in with a comment, because I love new ideas.

1. Let (or require) your children speak for themselves--ordering at a restaurant or asking for something they want at a store implicitly teaches the need to speak up, slow down, and speak clearly with adults.

2.  Push the please and thank yous.  A gracious child can get away with almost anything in the classroom.

3.  Put your child on the phone.  Call a relative, neighbor, or family friend when your child has something exciting to share.  This type of conversation teaches that people who weren't there don't know what happened, so you have to give them adequate background information and context.

4.  Put words on emotions.  Be sure your child knows that it is important to use the words that explain how they feel--sick, tired, mad, scared, frustrated--instead of cowering in the corner or going with the classic "stomachache" excuse.  This could save you some unnecessary trips to school to pick up a supposedly sick child.  I've been there, done that when the word my child was looking for was "embarassed" but it came out as "my head really really hurts," AKA, let me think of something that will get me out of here FAST.

5.  Teach compassion.  Use talk alouds (that's teacher-talk for talking to yourself in the earshot of others on purpose, not to be confused with being senile) to let your child in on the compassion you feel for others.  Comments like "I feel sad for Natalie since her dog died," or "I bet Alex is upset that he had to miss the party" demonstrate that you are thinking about others from their perspective.  This comes in handy when your child does something that hurts someone's feelings and you can ask "How do you think that made her feel?"

6.  Practice patience.  If you are on the phone, and your child continually interrupts you, hold your ground and make him wait.  You can't interrupt the teacher when she is teaching, so you shouldn't interrupt mom either. Young children have a very difficult time understanding that things that are okay at home are not okay at school.

7.  Encourage requests for help.  At home it is easy to anticipate every need.  I ask my daughter to put on her shoes, and one minute later I'm asking if she needs help untying them (old habits die hard, although the self-sufficient and slightly mocking look she has started giving me may nip that one in the bud).  The teacher cannot anticipate every need for every child all the time, and children who promptly pipe up and ask for help can get what they need and get on with their work.

8.  Be funny.  Kids like other kids who can tell a joke, make a silly face, or do something silly.  Timing is everything, of course, but appropriate gags are great fun.  Don't discourage them.

9.  Create opportunities for entering ongoing interactions. Full disclosure: this was the topic of my Master's thesis so I probably find this way more interesting than you do, but I think anyone can get a kick out of watching kids who are strangers try to interact.  One of my favorite places to watch this is in a public space like a library where there is a kid center of some sort such as a train table.  The hierarchy of accessing behaviors is wait and hover, move in towards the people you want to play with, make a comment about what the people are playing with, ask a question about it, and flat-out asking to play.  If your child has trouble with this, offer a bit of coaching.

10.  Set a good social skills example.  Spend time as a family with relatives and other families.  Be a good role model for how to get along with others.  Encourage cooperative play with other children.  You may only be thinking about kindergarten and readiness for part of your day, but your child is watching you all the time.

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