When people talk about “social skills” and the difficulty their children have with them I always want more information. This is such a broad area and the needs can vary greatly from child to child. So, not every social skills group is the right fit for every child.
For instance, do they need to learn to:
- meet people to start a friendship
- sustain friendships
- work together at school for a project
- take turns with toys and games
- problem solve conflicts
- understand nonverbal language and tone of voice
There are many other things that I could include that would make this list several pages, but getting clear on what they need and your priorities for your child can help you find a therapeutic group that is a good fit. And even if they need everything, what is most important right now, and what is most appropriate for their age?
Many times, children who need social skills support also need support for self-regulation. In fact, until they can regulate their energy level and increase their self-awareness, instruction in social skills may be less effective. It is much more challenging for children to receive feedback from peers to change how they interact in social situations if they lack focus and self-awareness.
This is why we start with self-regulation instruction at Apex OT. We embed social skills training within the context of a group project in our self-regulation group. This is a skill often needed in schools where children have to learn to problem solve, share responsibilities, and compromise when working together. But this experience also allows them a chance to learn and use strategies that help them focus and stay in control during social experiences. They also reflect on their participation to improve self-awareness. This is a very important skill for future social success.
It is important to make sure children are practicing their skills within the context of activities they will actually do with other children. Social skills instruction for children who are not yet adolescents should not be made of lectures and discussions. They need play and participation in projects that relate to real life experiences.