Social Skills Development and Early Intervention

Social Skills Development and Early Intervention
The date of publication 2022 . 12 . 30 The number of views 12

It's the little things that count, & nowhere is that more true than when it comes to helping our kids develop social skills. In fact, an entire field of behavioural study is devoted to social skills development and early intervention, meaning providing support to children at risk for developing social, emotional, or behavioural problems. Of course, every child is different and will develop at their own pace, but there are some general things you conduct to help your child become more well-rounded. Moreover, many of the social skills we take for granted – like making eye contact, taking turns, and sharing – are quite complex and don't come naturally to everyone. That's why providing opportunities for kids to practice these skills early is so significant. That being said, let's begin by looking at what social skills entail and the benefits of social skills development.

What are social skills?

In its broadest sense, social skills refer to the ability to interact effectively with others. This ability encompasses a wide range of behaviours, from making eye contact and using appropriate body language to listening attentively and communicating effectively. Social skills are skills we use to navigate the complex interactive social world around us.

Why are social skills necessary for children to develop early in life?

There are several reasons why social skills are essential for children to develop early on in life. 

Emotional well-being

Another reason social skills are essential is their role in the child's emotional well-being. A child who struggles to make friends or has trouble regulating their emotions is more likely to experience anxiety and depression. In contrast, kids with good social skills are more likely to cope with stress and adversity healthily. Technically, social skills are linked with resilience – the ability to "bounce back" from difficult experiences. Jaureguizar et al. (2018) state that self-concept, social skills, and resilience can moderate the relationship between stress and childhood depression. 

Improves self-esteem

It relates to social skill development because as children with strong social skills feel more competent in their interactions with others, their self-esteem improves. A child with good social skills is more likely to walk away from an argument feeling good about themselves, whereas a child who struggles in social situations is more likely to have their self-esteem bruised. So not only does having solid social skills make for happier kids at the moment, but it also sets them up for more chances of success by boosting their self-esteem.

Academic success

One of the fundamental reasons for social skills development is that they are necessary for academic success. A child who can't pay attention in class or has difficulty working cooperatively with other kids will have trouble keeping up with their peers academically. Additionally, social skills predict later academic achievement; kids with good social skills in kindergarten are more likely to perform in school overall than those who don't. In more specific terms, a child's social skills have been found to predict their reading achievement in 3rd grade and their maths and science achievement in 7th grade (malecki et al. (2002).

Foster social skill development in children

Now that we know why social skills are essential, let's take a look at some ways that you can foster social skill development in children. 

Structured Play

One way to foster social skills is through what is known as "structured play." This play involves setting up activities or games with specific rules and goals to promote social skills. An example of this would be playing "Simon Says" or "Red Light, Green Light" – games that require kids to take turns, follow directions, and pay attention to others. Alternatively, parents can create structured play activities tailored to their child's interests and abilities. For example, children diagnosed with autism will love to engage in games such as solving jigsaw puzzles, rubix cubes and mazes, which helps them develop essential skills such as turn taking,  following rules and sharing. 

Social Stories

Another way to promote social skills development is through "social stories." These short, simple narratives describe a social situation and the associated rules or expected behaviours. Social skill stories can be used as a tool to teach kids anything from how to take turns to what to do when they're feeling angry. For example, a social story about turn-taking might go something like this:

"Tommy and Harry are best friends. They like to do everything together. When they are playing games, they take turns. Tommy goes first sometimes and Harry goes first other times. That way, they both get a chance to play the game and have fun."

Parents or teachers can write social stories, or they can be found online or in social skills books. According to Smith et al . (2015), social stories are an effective intervention for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Modelling

Modelling is the simplest but most effective way to promote social skills development. Children learn significantly by observing and imitating the people around them ( Rymanowicz 2015), so parents and teachers need to model the desired behaviours. For example, model patience yourself if you want your child to practice patience. This practice might involve counting to 10 before responding to a situation that frustrates you or taking a deep breath before speaking in a raised voice. Technically, you're trying to avoid reacting negatively to social conditions in front of children. If you are in a messy argument with someone, apologise to your child and explain what you could have done differently.

You can also model turn-taking by waiting your turn during conversations and telling them "thank you" when they demonstrate sharing or other pro-social behaviours.

Social Skills Groups

Another option for fostering social skills development is to enrol kids in social skills groups. These are typically run by therapists or counsellors and involve small groups of children who meet regularly to engage in activities and games that promote social skills. The group doesn't have to be therapy-based – it can also be run through a school or community centre. For example, you can choose to enrol your child in an organised karate sport, drama club or Scouts group. These activities will allow them to practise critical social skills such as turn-taking, cooperation, emotional balance, and resilience. So they have fun & also learn essential life skills simultaneously. Not to mention that social skills groups have been proven effective interventions for kids with autism, ADHD, and other developmental disabilities (Leif et al ., 2013).

These are just a few techniques to foster social skills development in kids. You can also try other arts and crafts, sports, or cooking. The main idea is to ensure that the activity is structured in a way that promotes social interaction and that you provide ample opportunities for kids to practice their social skills.

How do you notice your child's social skills difficulty?

If you're not sure whether or not your child is developing social skills typically, there are a few things you can look for. First, does your child have difficulty making and keeping friends? Do they tend to play alone or prefer adults over other kids their age? Do they often seem left out of activities or birthday parties? Do they have trouble taking turns or sharing toys? If you answered with a  "yes" to two of these questions, your child might struggle with social skills.

Of course, it's crucial to remember that not all children develop at the same pace. Some children may take considerably longer than others to warm up to new people or situations. And that's perfectly normal. However, suppose you're concerned that your child's social skills are significantly delayed, or they have difficulty functioning in school or other activities. In that case, it's a good idea to consult with a professional. They can assess your child's development and guide how to best support their social skills development.

 

References

Malecki, C & Elliot, S., (2002). Children’s Social Behaviours as Predictors of Academic Achievement: A Longitudinal Analysis.
Retrieved from:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232577029_Children's_Social_Behaviors_as_Predictors_of_Academic_Achievement_A_Longitudinal_Analysis

Jauregiza et al. (2018). Self-concept, Social Skills, and Resilience as Moderators of the Relationship Between Stress and Childhood Depression.
Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12310-018-9268-1

Smith et al. (2004). A research synthesis of Social Story interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Retrieve from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK70773/

Rymanowzwik. (2015). Monkey see, monkey do: Model behavior in early childhood.
https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/monkey_see_monkey_do_model_behavior_in_early_childhood

Leifer et al. (2022). Social Skills Group Training for Students with Neurodevelopmental Disabilities in Senior High School—A Qualitative Multi-Perspective Study of Social Validity.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8835167/