Family Matters  |  Catherine Omni

Increasing Your Child's
Social Skills

"The art of communication is the language of leadership."

When considering your child’s difficulties with social skills, it is helpful to understand what is happening for them. While there are many things that impact social difficulties, much of what we see comes from problems such as your child having difficulty with:

  • being aware of themselves: what is happening for them emotionally
  • being aware of their effect on others
  • being aware of social cues
  • understanding social cues
  • matching their behaviours to the social situation

What we as adults often take for granted is our ability to do these things enough to get by socially. We may have ordinarily learnt this through the process of growing up and maturing. Though, for a child who has difficulties in this area, either through an Autism Spectrum Disorder, or through some other difficulty, learning these skills needs to be more supported and taught. It is important to note, that each child is unique and their skillsets and needs for support are different.

Often children can have some other impacting emotional problems when they are faced with unsuccessful social interactions, such as feeling ‘dumb’, ‘stupid’, ‘bullied’, no accepted, and isolated, which then impacts how they initiate or engage in a social interaction the next time or at all.

Foundational skills in developing and supporting your child’s social skills comes with both understanding themselves, and understanding their situation. This is not an overnight switch. Rather, this is a process and a journey that you embark on with your child to guide and coach them in.

In developing these two skills, I often say to parents, we want to do a number of things:

  • understand what your child currently ‘sees’
  • understand what makes your child ‘see’ that way
  • guide them in what would be a clearer way of ‘seeing’
  • guide them in what would be an appropriate way to be in that situation
  • make your voice become their voice and empower them to do this for themselves

To do this we use whatever situation we are in to ask some questions. It can be a situation that you’ve set up, such as a playdate, or something more natural, such as stopping at the lights while driving along, watching a movie, reading a book, stopping for a moment while playing at the park.  We want to get curious about ourselves and our world.  This doesn’t need to be that formal or serious, make it fun, make it easy, and most of all, make it just part of your dialogue no matter how small.

We want to get curious about:

  • What do you see? What is happening? What do you notice?
  • How can you tell? What makes you think that XYZ?
  • What do you think that person is thinking? Feeling? Saying?
  • How can you tell? Did their body tell you? Their face? Their words?
  • What do you think is going to happen next? What do you think they will do next?
  • How can you tell? Are they holding something? Is someone else with them too? What do you see? What do you notice?
  • What do you think you would do next if that was you?
  • What might you do if someone did that to you or near you?
  • Do you want to know what I would do?

These are simply examples of a way to assist your child to be curious, and also to assist you to understand what they see. When you can understand what they are seeing, you can pinpoint the areas they need help in, as well as be more useful in your approach to guide them.

If your child is preverbal, then you want to adjust your curious creator to more prompting and guiding, such as, “can you point to three blue things” “can you find the boy with the sad face” “can you go and collect for me five things that make you happy”, and so on. Make a game out of it, mix it up, have some fun, it will keep them engaged and will have great social skill building while playing it with you.

One thing I would add is that this is NOT something to be done with your child if they are at the top of the mountain and in the middle of a meltdown!

At first you may find your child resistant to engaging in this with you because it’s hard for them. Be mindful not to create a negative experience, and be mindful that it will be a little hard for both of you at first.  But, persist!  Little by little.  You may do this for a couple of times a week, or once or twice and pace it out.  As this becomes your dialogue and is actually fun, not something they “have” to do, it will be easier and be really beneficial.




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