Assisting your child with social skill deficits can be challenging. It is important to understand what type of deficit your child exhibits before you can successfully implement a successful intervention. The way you address the deficit will depend on what type it is.
Your child may not be able to perform a skill due to lack of knowledge. In this case the child either does not know the skill or does not know the appropriate situation to use the skill. For example, a child grabs a pencil from her sister because she does not know how to appropriately ask to borrow it.
Your child may be unable to perform a skill consistently, despite having the knowledge to do so. For example, a child knows how to ask for help and does so some of the time, but there are times he will rush through an assignment without asking for help when he needs it.
Your child knows how to perform a skill and is motivated to do so but demonstrates inadequate performance due to lack of practice or adequate feedback. For example, a child knows what to say and do when confronted by a bully, but her responses are not yet strong enough to be successful.
Internal or external factors prevent your child from demonstrating a learned skill appropriately. For example, inattention, depression, and anxiety can make it difficult to use good coping skills, even though the skills have been taught.
If your child has an acquisition deficit, your intervention will need to focus on teaching the skill they are lacking. If it is a performance deficit, you may need to demonstrate and discuss what types of situations the skills should be used in or develop a way to motivate your child to use the skill appropriately. With a fluency deficit—practice, practice and practice! If other factors are involved, you may need to consider how to eliminate or treat those other factors. With all types of deficits, the following strategies are an important part of intervention:
Focus on helping your child perform the desirable behavior as well as eliminating the undesirable behavior.
Emphasize the learning, performance, generalization, and maintenance of appropriate behaviors through modeling, coaching, and role-playing. It is also crucial to provide your child with immediate feedback in situations where they displayed inappropriate AND appropriate skills.
Use mostly positive strategies and add punitive strategies only if the positive approach is un- successful and the behavior is of a serious and/or dangerous nature.
Provide practice opportunities in a wide range of settings with different groups and individuals in order to encourage your child to generalize new skills to multiple, real life situations.
Tips for improving social skills with peers:
Encourage your child to join a club, team, or other organized group activity to give them more “practice” in social situations.
Role play and give your child ideas for starting and keeping conversations going.
If you observe a social flub, discuss ideas for how it could be handled differently the next time. Wait to have this conversation until after your child has calmed down.
Try to let your child work through problems with peers on their own, as much as possible, so they learn conflict resolution skills and don’t come to rely on you to solve peer problems. Talk them through tough situations and give them ideas of how they can handle it.
Jessica Martin, Ed.S., NCSP
RVA School Psychologist & Director of Special Education & Pupil Services