Social skills are what allow people to communicate and interact positively with others. Most children learn these skills through positive role models, adult guidance, and interactions with others. They just learn them and the rest is pretty easy! Others, though, don’t pick up on the social skills that way. These are the kids who are getting into arguments with peers, like to follow their own set of rules, don’t see why they have to wait their turn, and sadly, often don’t have many (or any) real friends. Teaching social skills isn’t easy. It’s something extra you have to teach on top of everything else, so sometimes it gets forgotten or put off. It is, however, the most rewarding thing to teach because it REALLY makes a difference. It doesn’t happen quickly, but you can see a kid transform from being avoided by other kids to really being *liked* by his or her peers. That’s special, really.
If you want to teach social skills, but don’t really know how to get started, the easiest thing you can do is discuss real-life social scenarios and situations. For example,” Tracy is sitting alone at a lunch table.” In a small group, have students come up with ideas for how Tracy might feel? Why might she be sitting alone? What could someone do to help in this situation? It’s most important for kids to focus on how *THAT* person might feel, not themselves. That helps develop their ability to take the perspective of someone else. Coming up with a variety of real-life social scenarios like this can help kids problem-solve social situations. Plus, it’s super fun getting to see how they feel about certain situations.
Similarly, you can teach social skills like this with ANY literature. As you read a story, encourage students to consider some of those same questions about social situations. Why did that person act like that? How do you think the main character felt when..? Why did the character react like that when..? This can allow you to help students work on social skills while still staying true to your content in your classroom.
Another important thing to remember when targeting social skills is that it’s highly important to include peer models for whatever you are teaching. I once tried to teach social skills to a group of students who all needed support in this area without any peer models due to a scheduling conflict. It didn’t last long before I realized it was just not going to work! You really NEED the support of strong role models in a group to help teach your struggling kids. It’s so true that children learn much more from other children than they do from us, no matter how hard we try!
My biggest advice is that if you know you have a child struggling with social skills, just try an intervention to help. Even if you aren’t 100% sure on the best techniques, methods, strategies, or materials, just try it. These kids with social skill deficits need supports and interventions as soon as possible so that they can begin to learn the skills and make new friends. Even if you learn with them, it won’t be quick and it won’t be easy, but it WILL be rewarding!