Practicing Social Skills at Home

I suggest the following in the moment of an emotional episode, even if it occurs during game-playing activities listed below in bold: 

- when calm, discuss and identify one or more calm down strategies that your child likes and/or can do independently (such as counting to ten, deep breathing, taking a break from people, listening to music, squeezing a pillow or stuffed animal, going for a walk or jog, sit-ups, push-ups, etc.)

- practice the calm down strategy for a minute a day

- when emotional, prompt your child or help your child to use a calm down strategy

- do NOT discuss and teach what your child should do or say and do NOT talk through the problem while your child is emotional.  This usually heightens the emotion, does not promote learning and is counter-productive.

- wait to talk through the problem and identify 'expected' and respectful things your child can do or say when upset WHEN YOUR CHILD IS CALM.  This may be the next day.

- remind your child, when he or she is calm, that feelings are normal and okay.  However, children are expected to remain respectful when emotional.  Asking for break and for help is good.  No emotion is bad, using strategies is good.  Using words respectfully to say "I feel mad/sad/bored/lonely/scared" or "I don't like _____" is very good.  


Ideas for families from Caroline Maguire:

Practice Social Skills During Social Distancing

  • Gamify - Make working on social behavior a game that is just part of the fabric of the whole family. Rather than singling out one child, suggest everyone practice having better communication and being more polite to each other. Games make learning more fun.  Play a game with your child. Make it a game to ask your child to keep a journal with all the emotions they read while they are playing and doing school work at home.

  • Teach Your Child to Engage in a “Polite Pretend” - The ability to fake interest or happiness and to be polite even when your child is hungry, tired or bored is what I call a polite pretend. Begin by asking him some open-ended questions, what do you think your friend felt about your behavior?   How do other people feel about how you treated them? What behavior does the situation call for? This will help your child think about his actions and why performing a polite pretend may be necessary rather than hurting other people’s feelings.

  • Suggest Your Teen Text and Make Contact with Virtual Friends - Research shows that by making contact outside of the virtual world, real friendships can grow. Electronics are an inevitable part of this time of physical distance, but you can make gaming time conditional upon the teenager actually reaching out and texting, chatting and talking to his virtual friends. If the teenager struggles with how to do this, you can use open questions to help your teen think through the conversation, what would you like to say? What can you talk about related to the game? What does that person like to talk about?

  • Hot and Cold Bear Hunt - Explain that you are going to have a bear hunt and your child will find the stuffed bear by guessing whether or not she is hot or cold by reading your facial expressions. Then show the child two facial expressions. One facial expression will demonstrate “hot” to the child, when she is close to the bear, and the second facial expression will demonstrate “cold,” when the child is far away from the bear.Then ask the child to hunt for the bear and read only your facial expression with no words to find the bear.  Once your child finds the bear, ask her how facial expressions can tell her what actions she can take when she reads the room. Continue to practice reading the face!

  • Have Meals Together and Make Eye Contact - Family meals are a time when children and adults can connect and learn to enjoy each other. Ask your child, what are your highs and what are your lows? What are the sunny parts of your day and what are the cloudy parts of your day? Prompt your children to make eye contact, ask them to listen to their siblings and to respond and engage in a real conversation. If children are being insensitive, you can promote empathy by asking them to step into each other’s shoes and think about how the other feels.

  • Promote Discussions and Chit Chat -  Creating a reciprocal back and forth conversation is a key social skill. Introduce a topic of conversation such as sports, a favorite event or a future plan. Each time the child builds on a topic they can add blocks, a Jenga piece, return a ping pong serve.  This gives the child a visual representation of how a conversation grows and that each comment builds on the last comment. 

  • Work on Being a Good Winner and a Good Loser – Being a good winner or a good loser is hard for some children. When emotions run high, they tend to get upset and storm off or gloat and brag and rub their victory in the face of others. Invite your child to select a game to play. During the game, notice her body signals and warning signs and when her emotional reaction is getting exaggerated. While she is in that state, interrupt with a coaching cue to pause the action and draw her attention to her emotional state and to her power to make a choice. Help her connect the dots between what she experienced, her body’s signals, and what she can do the next time she notices she’s beginning to lose control. Brainstorm together to create strategies she can use when she recognizes that her activation and emotions are becoming too much.

  • Work on Sharing and a Puzzle - Meeting people halfway, compromise  and working collaborate as a team is a key social skill. Take two simple jigsaw puzzles and deliberately mix up the pieces beforehand, so each person has one or two of the pieces that actually belong to the other person’s puzzle.   Then ask your child to work on them with you. The test is to see how long it takes her to realize that she is stuck and that without cooperating with each other, neither of you will be able to complete your puzzle. Promote asking your child to collaborate and to work together.

  • Promote Reaching Out - Many kids struggle to reach out to others and feel embarrassed or do not try to arrange their own socialization. Even in a time of physical distance, connecting to others and reaching out is a key skill especially for teenagers. Help your child text, facetime or call peers and grandparents. Help your child decide who they want to reach out to, what to say and how to do it. As adults, we have to plan our own social interactions, and this is a life skill.

  • Work on Telling a Tight Story - all kids tend to tell stories that meander and don’t quite have a purpose. Pick a topic or allow your child to suggest a topic for the story. Ask your child to practice introducing a concise story.  Ask him, who he is telling the story to? And why he is telling the story and why the person needs to know this information.