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:

http://www.polyxo.com/socialstories/

http://www.adders.org/socialstories.htm

http://www.thegraycenter.org/social-stories

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.

Using Your Parenting E.A.R.S.

Someone once joked that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we talked. Not bad advice actually. Many parents would do well to heed that advice. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t talk to their children. It’s just that they shouldn’t be so quick to give advice or lecture of the right and wrongs of a problem. Listen first, then 
talk. Better yet, ask questions to get at the solutions to children’s problems. This causes them to feel as if they came up with the answer and take more ownership for the problem. E.A.R.S. is a helpful acronym for parents who want to improve their problem-solving skills with their children. 

E = Elicit

The starting point for problem-solving with children is to elicit possible solutions that already exist in the child’s repertoire. Ask questions such as, “What have you been doing to make your situation better?” This implies 
that there is a solution and that the child has the ability to utilize it. If they don’t have an answer to this question, try this one: “What would your _______ (supply a relevant name here) say you are doing about the situation?” 
This implies that the child is already solving his problem. The fact of the matter is that every response to a problem is a solution to a problem. Only some responses are better than others and have fewer severe consequences. The job of parents is to acknowledge children’s efforts and then direct them to use better responses.

If the child persists that there wasn’t anything good about what he did in the situation, then ask, “What was the part of the situation that was better than the other parts?” And if the child does recite some ‘better than other 
parts’ of the situation, ask, “How did you do that?” This encourages the child to learn from their own behaviors and increase positive responses. 

If the child suffered severe consequences for his response to the situation, ask, “What did you learn from the situation?” Most successes are the result 
of trial and error and determining what doesn’t work. 

A = Amplify

Amplify refers to the use of questions to get more details about any positive efforts toward problem-solving. Use who, what, where, when, and how questions. For example, “Who noticed you do that?” or “When did you decide to do that?” or “How did they respond to your solution?” Never use why questions. Why is a very judgmental word and will stop all attempts to help 
the child problem-solving because he feels bad about his efforts. Over time this can develop into a pattern of behavior where the child never tries 
anything new because he is afraid of failing. If he doesn’t try, he doesn’t fail. At least that is the rationale.

R = Reinforce

Years of behavioral change research have taught us that there are two ways to create change in others. Reward desired behaviors and ignore or 
mildly punish undesirable behavior. So be sure to reinforce any effort to solving a problem. Even failed attempts are worthy of acknowledgment. The 
child must want and value positive change. Reinforcement will be the motivating force for this value. Be sure, though, that you use verbal or social reinforcement. Don’t give in to bribes (candy, toys, and money) to 
reinforce the child. This will reinforce dependent and manipulative behavior and decrease independent problem-solution. The best reinforcers are a 
surprise. When children do not know when to expect a reinforcer (a compliment or public acknowledgment) they will be more motivated, ready for reinforcement at any moment in time. 

S = Start again

Learning to problem-solving, and listening to our children to help them, is a process. It can’t be done once and then left alone. It must be done over and over again. Repetition is a fundamental principle of learning. The more you do something the better you get at it. And now that the child has found a solution to a problem, plan for the next one. Most problems pop up again in life. Brainstorm solutions for the next time. And finally, treat every problem as an experiment where new and clever solutions can be tested. So use those two ears to listen more then you talk but when you do talk, ask solution-focused questions to help children problem-solve.

CONTACT Ron today for an appointment at 530-339-6888 or Rehuxley@gmail.com

Six Essential Social Skills for Children

Social skills are a learned skill! Children do not use manners, act assertively, or negotiate a problem naturally. They must be taught how. I have listed below the six essential areas of social skill development. If your child does not exhibit all of the areas listed, don’t freak! That simply means he or she is normal. Use this list as a *guide* to teaching/modeling/mentoring your child in how to be a prosocial human being. Maybe you and I will learn something along the way.

Beginning social skills: Listening, start a conversation, ask a question, say thank you, introduce yourself and others, give a compliment.

Advanced social skills: Asks for help, join in, give instructions, follow instructions, apologize, persuade others.

Skills for dealing with feelings: Know and express your feelings, understand others, deal with others feelings, express affection, and rewards self socially.

Alternatives to aggression: Ask permission, share something, help others, negotiate, use self-control, stand up for rights, respond (not react) to teasing, avoid trouble, keep out of fights.

Skills for dealing with stress: Make a complaint, answer a complaint, game sportsmanship, deal with embarrassment, deal with being left out, stand up for a friend, respond (not react) to persuasion, respond (not react) to failure, deal with confusing messages, deal with an accusation, get ready for a difficult conversation, deal with group pressure.

Planning skills: Decide on something to do, decide on what caused a problem, set a goal, decide on your abilities, gather information, arrange problems by importance, make a decision, concentrate on a task.

Encouraging Positive Relationships | ParentFurther

Choosing one’s friends is an important part of growing up. Kids will meet new people, join new groups, change friends, and develop new relationships many times before they truly find the group that they “fit” with. And although you can’t choose your children’s friends, you can have a positive influence on the relationships they make throughout their formative years. Use some of the following strategies to help your children build positive relationships with their friends.

 
Encourage Diversity– Challenge your children to get to know kids from many different backgrounds and perspectives. In addition to exposing your kids to more diversity, it will also help them learn more about themselves.
 
Avoid Criticism– Avoid criticizing friendships, but be honest with your kids when you’re concerned. Don’t: Condemn your child’s friends. This may make them defensive and less receptive to what you have to say. Do: Be open and willing to listen to what she has to say, and talk about what makes you nervous.
 
Get Involved– If you feel that one of your child’s friends is having a negative influence on him, invite that friend to spend time with you and your child together so that you can have a positive influence on the relationship.
 
Offer Advice– When talking about a friend who has a negative influence on your child, focus your comments on that friend’s behaviors, not on her personality. For example, instead of calling your child’s friend irresponsible for smoking, you could point out that the behavior has a negative effect on her health and recommend ways for your child to help her quit.
 
Set Limits– Set limits on how much time your child spends with her friends—it’s important to develop positive relationships with family members as well.
 
Engage in Community Service– Engage your family in service and volunteering (or join a social group) through a local congregation, school, or other nonprofit organization—these events can be great places to meet new friends, and often result in new positive relationships.

Ron Huxley’s Applause: One of the keys to successful parenting is raising children who have positive social skills and know how to make friends. The ParentFurther blog gives sound advice on based on research.

Using Your E.A.R.S. to Help Children Problem-Solve

Someone once joked that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we talked. Not bad advice actually. Many parents would do well to heed that advice. This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t talk to their children. It’s just that they shouldn’t be so quick to give advice or lecture of the right and wrongs of a problem. Listen first, then talk. Better yet, ask questions to get at the solutions to children’s problems. This causes them to feel as if they came up with the answer and take more ownership for the problem. E.A.R.S. is a helpful acronym for parents who want to improve their problem-solving skills with their children.

E = Elicit

The starting point for problem-solving with children is to elicit possible solutions that already exist in the child’s repertoire. Ask questions such as, “What would you think would make the situation better?” This implies that there is a solution and that the child has the ability to utilize it. If they don’t have an answer to this question, try this one: “What would your _______ (supply a relevant name here) say you are doing about the situation?”

This implies that the child is already solving his problem. The fact of the matter is that every response to a problem is a solution to a problem. Only some responses are better than others and have fewer severe consequences. The job of parents is to acknowledge children’s efforts and then direct them to use better responses.

If the child persists that there wasn’t anything good about what he did in the situation, then ask, “What was the part of the situation that was better than the other parts?” And if the child does recite some ‘better than other parts’ of the situation, ask, “How did you do that?” This encourages the child to learn from their own behaviors and increase positive responses.

If the child suffered severe consequences for his response to the situation, ask, “What did you learn from the situation?” Most successes are the result of trial and error and determining what doesn’t work.

A = Amplify

Amplify refers to the use of questions to get more details about any positive efforts toward problem-solving. Use who, what, where, when, and how questions. For example, “Who noticed you do that?” or “When did you decide to do that?” or “How did they respond to your solution?” Never use why questions. Why is a very judgemental word and will stop all attempts to help the child problem-solving because he feels bad about his efforts. Over time this can develop into a pattern of behavior where the child never tries anything new because he is afraid of failing. If he doesn’t try, he doesn’t fail. At least that is the rationale.

R = Reinforce

Years of behavioral change research have taught us that there are two ways to create change in others. Reward desired behaviors and ignore or mildly punish undesirable behavior. So be sure to reinforce any effort to solving a problem. Even failed attempts are worthy of acknowledgment. The child must want and value positive change. Reinforcement will be the motivating force for this value. Be sure, though, that you use verbal or social reinforcement. Don’t give in to bribes (candy, toys, and money) to reinforce the child. This will reinforce dependent and manipulative behavior and decrease independent problem-solution. The best reinforcers are a surprise. When children do not know when to expect a reinforcer (a compliment or public acknowledgment) they will be more motivated, ready for reinforcement at any moment in time.

S = Start again

Learning to problem-solving and listening to our children to help them, is a process. It can’t be done once and then left alone. It must be done over and over again. Repetition is a fundamental principle of learning. The more you do something the better you get at it. And now that the child has found a solution to a problem, plan for the next one. Most problems pop up again in life. Brainstorm solutions for the next time. And finally, treat every problem as an experiment where new and clever solutions can be tested. So use those two ears to listen more then you talk but when you do talk, ask solution-focused questions to help children problem-solve.