(Inside: These 6 simple strategies to teach social skills when it doesn’t come easy to your child will help you in teaching social skills to your child who struggles)
Social skills are often overlooked when teachers and parents start planning their education for their children.
The emphasis is often placed on math, reading and test taking and less on how children interact with each other.
In fact, social skills are thought to be an inherent skill that children will naturally learn, like learning to walk, or learning to talk.
Unfortunately, social skills and picking up on social cues does not come easy for all children.
Teaching social skills is extremely important in the growth and development of young children. So what happens when a child is incapable or has difficulty making the connection?
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I can tell you from first hand experience, having a child with minimal social skills is hard.
I spent years blaming myself, blaming teachers and blaming peers. Basically, there was a lot of blame.
You see, as many of you know, my son struggles with many challenges because of sensory processing disorder. One of of the biggest struggles is his lack of social skills.
Whether its a lack of personal space, a disregard for other’s feelings, or his inability to be flexible in a situation, my son struggles with everyday life activities that many children don’t have to even think twice about.
In exchange, he often feels isolated, picked on, and singled out.
He struggles with making the connection between socially acceptable behavior and his need for sensory input.
My son is not alone.
In fact, many times children struggle with these same skills and are pinpointed as a bully, the “mean” kid, non-compliant, or defiant.
When the truth is that these children, like my son, are spending so much energy trying to regulate their nervous system, that they do not have anything left for social cues and social “niceties”.
6 Simple Strategies to Teach Social Skills When it Doesn’t Come Easy
#1 Educate Yourself
The first step in teaching a child who struggles with social skills is to educate yourself on the possible reasons behind their lack of skills.
Is it a behavior management problem, a communication problem, or a problem with sensory integration.
There are so many possible reason behind your child’s behaviors, and knowing the root cause will help you have understanding toward them and patience.
Understanding your child sensory needs will allow you to know their limitations and help you find resources that will be helpful.
#2 Educate Your Child
Often times children with sensory needs, are unable to see social clues, understand age appropriate behaviors, and read body language.
Once you are equipped with the knowledge you need, you will be able to explain to your child how to choose more socially acceptable behaviors.
In our home we say things such as…
“What you are doing right now is not socially acceptable. If you need xyz, a more acceptable way to do this”
#3 Try to Be Patient
This one doesn’t come easy, but your kiddo needs it.
Seriously, if your child struggles with learning social skills, you will find that you will repeat yourself often, your child will learn a new skill and then regress, and you might even find yourself frustrated at your child.
This is all very normal.
It will be easy to yell at your child and punish them for their unacceptable behaviors.
I encourage you to stay firm, consistent and more than anything else,… LOVING.
#4 Use Social Stories
Social stories, picture cards, and visual reminders are great for children who are already working so hard to organize their systems.
I know our son loved Super Flex social stories.
In the Super Flex stories the hero (Super Flex) fights of villians known as the unthinkables. Each unthinkable is a different socially unacceptable behavior.
By giving the behaviors a animated visual, Legoman was able to connect and grasp the concepts a little better.
#5 Use Games with Repetition and Modeling
Using games, puzzles and cooperative play can be extremely helpful in developing social skills.
In fact, if your child is like Legoman, they can become extremely competitive.
I think he once turned eating his fruit snacks into a competition. Everything, everywhere becomes this fight to be the best.
By choosing games that force us to work together to complete the game are the best games for helping us solve our social skill dilemna.
In fact, I am over at Melissa & Doug sharing simple ways to use Puzzles to Teach Social Skills.
#6 Ease Anxieties About Social Situations
Sometimes your child could be nervous or anxious about social situations despite having the skills they need and the skills modeled.
In our home we have been using a few techniques to calm that anxiety a little more.
If we know we will be going somewhere social, we always take our sensory toolkit with us and make sure we have it stocked with gum and a water bottle.
In addition, we have recently added the use of a few essential oils that are great for calming and easing anxieties.
We use a combination of frankincense, cedarwood, and valor along with a few others. Click here to find out where we get our essential oils and why.
But at the end of the day, we still need to know why teaching social skills to our child is so difficult… Why do they act out? What’s the cause of these behaviors?
Because your child’s behaviors are much like this iceberg. On the surface you see…
* a child that is clingy and doesn’t like to be alone,
* a child that crosses his arms and shuts down
* a child that is scared of ever getting a wrong answer
* a child that doesn’t like to go new places
Or a child that becomes “hyper” when new guests arrive at your house.
It’s easy to look at these behaviors as just what we see. It’s easy to make assumptions about why our children are acting out or doing inexplicable things.
However, I challenge you to look for the other 85%. Look deeper.
What’s hiding behind what you see?
Right now, download your FREE Handle Any Sensory Challenge posters so you can get a deeper understanding of sensory and start implementing some sensory activities and routines with your family!
17 thoughts on “6 Simple Strategies to Teach Social Skills When it Doesn’t Come Easy”
I would use the Sensory Fix Toolkit at home, school, church…..everywhere!!!!!
I have to say I LOVE this post. You can spend as much time on social skills as you can working on academics. No part of the journey is easy. The idea that a child might not care about others or their feelings is very hard.
I have my Raising Sensory Smart Child marked with tabs so that I can always find what I’m looking for. I typed up the sensory overload signs and have it in a nice easy to go card so I can always remind myself what I’m looking for.
This is a post that a lot of other parents just might need to read. I know that when I started my journey several years ago this would have helped me out .
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This is an interesting and very positive way of looking at and dealing with this situation. It is so frustrating and when the school’s focus is on negative labels like “yellow zone” instead of promoting more socially acceptable behavior and positive reinforcement. A 5 year old shouldn’t feel like a “bad” kid. I’ll definitely be browsing your site for more ideas.
I am curious to learn a bit more. i have a son that I struggle with daily that has been diagnosed AdHd and a few other disorders. Now after reading this I am beginning to wonder if there is more to it than just those that they have touched on. He has behaviors that i do not understand and openly admit to not understanding what to even do. I have reached out to my school for help only to be labeled a horrible mother by them. he has a counselor and has had many tests done as of late. The behaviors do not change. He still does not comprehend how his actions or words cause the results he receives from others and always feels like he is singled out. Everything with him is a competition between us as parents and his siblings and he is so over bossy that he has no true blue friends that he connects with. And on top of it all he has major anger and violence issues could we have missed a sensory issue and therefore we are not fixing the root of all the problems Please i would like more information on this. Sincere thanks.
This is very good information for the parents, grand parents, teachers and siblings too.
Thank you for caring enough to help with our special kids…
Blessings to you,
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I love your tip on using games to help teach social skills to children. This is such a smart way to do it since they are able to associate it with something fun and positive. I definitely agree that choosing games that force you and the child to work together would be the best option for helping with social skills.
Oh my I am sooooo glad I found your website. I have 8 children. we have ADHD, SPD, anxiety and depression mixed and spread out between them. My 7 year old is especially effected and has anger management issues. For the most part they’ve had good teachers and we even homeschooled for a while which I found to be so much easier, but this year we have several teachers who just don’t get it and don’t care to get it. This website has great suggestions and the issues are laid out in an easy to share and understand way. I’m sending some of these ideas and suggestions and explainations to their teachers. You’re gold!
So glad these are helpful. If you email me with specific questions I can try to create resources for them.
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Yes. People know you have to teach math but they forget you have to teach social skills and emotional intelligence is largely learned. Paying attention and discussing what is going on and how to express oneself is important. It starts as young as 2 or 3, I remember always telling my son, use your words. Tell me what you are feeling or thinking so we can talk about it.