Social skills will help your child have a great school year!

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

It is always surprising to me how many children actually like school. I don’t know if things are different now from when I was growing up but as a child I thought summer went so quickly and dreaded having to return to the demanding routines of homework. As I watch my grandson and friends children get ready for school, they seem so excited to get back to school. Perhaps it is just the parents excitement?

One of the common denominators it seems for these eager children is the power of social connections. Getting to see friends again or making new ones is a strong drive in all of us. Unfortunately, not all children are good at making friends. They might have the want to but not the know-how for successful social skills.

One way parents can help children improve these skills is by using social scripts. Applicable to all children but commonly employed with autistic spectrum or attention deficit children, social scripts teach basic skills on interacting with peers, help manage anxiety, and addressing interfering behaviors like aggression, fear and obsessions. The underlying principle of social scripts is the cognitive technique of rehearsal or role play. It’s kind of like practicing for a play but the play is life. Like learning any new rote activity, you feel awkward at first and the words seem, well “scripted”, but with practice you become more spontaneous and comfortable.

There are some excellent websites that have detailed instructions for parents of children with developmental challenges:

Originally created by Carol Gray of The Gray Center, social scripts were designed to be an intervention for developmentally challenged children.  There are several books, DVD’s, and topical scripts that parents can use with their child. The one thing that a published script can’t give is awareness of a child’s social context. I recommend that parents talk to teachers, see their child on the playground, ask a friend for honest feedback and talk with other parents of special needs children to get ideas on how to create a personalized script. Additionally, scripts should focus on reinforcing a child’s strengths and applaud any effort at positive social interactions.

The elements of a good social script include “who” is involved, “what” happens, “when” the event takes place, “why” it happens and “how” it happens. The subject for these elements could be asking to play a game, telling a joke, giving others personal space, waiting ones turn, sharing with others, being more assertive, etc. Older children may need more detail about feelings and motivations than younger children.

Parents of all children can use expressive and dramatic play to rehearse a social script. Set up a target topic, like telling a joke, and then draw it out on paper, use puppets to show interactions, dress up in home-made costumes and act it out or just have a spontaneous conversation in the car on the way to school. I used made up stories about forest animals struggling to get along with other animals when my children were young. I have used toys figures with my clients in family therapy to role play tough social situations. The more creative, the more fun. Give high fives and words of praise to increase motivation. Talk about how it worked afterwards and re-rehearse if necessary.

Helping our children feel and be more competent socially will help them be more successful academically. It will improve self-esteem and help to create leaders in the world.

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