Disciplining and teaching our children is all part of being a parent. We change our tone of voice, we frown, we give an encouraging smile, or take a tense stance, depending on our child’s behavior.
Sometimes, our children know what all of these things mean and they can act accordingly to make us pleased again. This is a fragment of a bigger skillset known as “social competence.”
But not everybody picks up on these common social cues and might need a little help. Trouble with social skills may not be obvious in children, especially during early development.
Not sure if your child needs professional social skills support? Here are some signs to look for.
1. They like to talk about one detail in a conversation.
We all have passions we like to talk about, but sometimes your child doesn’t understand that a conversation isn’t a lecture about his or her favorite superhero. This called “perseveration,” and it’s not just getting stuck on one topic, but could also be stuck on one emotion as well. While some children may intentionally keep talking about their favorite food or all about dogs, others don’t know how to stop or why. Helping children acknowledge why this behavior is “unexpected” and how others will feel gives your child the proper context to improve in their conversations.
2. They find it difficult to join in with groups on the playground.
Your child likes predictability and routine; however, recess and games on the playground are anything but routine. They are messy, loud, unpredictable, and the looming anxiety over the unknown may be preventing your child from joining in.
Part of understanding social environments is understanding that at the beginning, social environments start with sharing space. To help children recognize group patterns, we like to keep groups small and familiar and teach kids the very basics of what others may be thinking when you stand outside the group or when you are not paying attention within a group of friends.
3. They may not understand personal spatial boundaries.
In a 2014 study of children with developmental delays, an overwhelming majority of students (766 children) observed, 76% “were less aware of being too close and more prone to personal space invasions” than their neurotypical peers.
If your child struggles with this, they may not understand more other nonverbal social communication.
4. They would like to improve their language, conversation, staying on topic, and/or organizing their ideas.
Your child is different than their friends somehow but they’re not sure why. If your child has mentioned some of these feelings to you, you may not be sure how to react. Being aware of these differences may be emotionally or socially painful for your child, if not in a supported environment or without tools they can use to overcome challenges. Giving them these tools to “think more socially” might be the solution they’re seeking.
5. Tone of voice is hard to understand or they find it difficult to respond to emotional cues.
If your child is screaming unexpectedly or doesn’t understand when something is a joke, they could potentially benefit from social skills support. A 2010 Notre Dame study suggests the speech difficulty may be because children with developmental delays understand meaning differently through hearing the tone of voice. Careful therapy sessions and educational lessons can help children with this kind of struggle understand tone differences.
6. He or she would like to be more confident and less worried about everyday things.
Your child may experience a lot of anxiety when following instructions at school, sitting in a noisy restaurant, talking with friends at parties, etc. That’s not uncommon, though! One study found that 40% of children diagnosed with ASD also will be diagnosed with some kind of anxiety disorder. Social skills support in a familiar and safe environment can help alleviate that stress and give your child the tools he or she needs to feel more in control of his or her surroundings and actions.
7. Emotional exchanges could be better communicated such as body language, tone, feelings, etc.
Social skills deficits can make communication almost unbearable and emotion is such a crucial part of communicating that it may feel like a lost cause to your child. This is why early intervention and social skills support is so important for your child to learn as soon as they can how to communicate how they’re feeling and how to understand what others feel too.
8. Friendships may end sooner or prematurely.
Perhaps your child lacks the social intuition to keep a friend or they are not aware of what they are saying and doing. A great way to combat this, is to involve him or her in a program that gives your child a chance to mess up and take chances while learning how to be a great friend and use his or her social skills “toolbox.” Truly finding a place where they feel like they belong and enjoy is one way to help your child in this area. It may be hard at first, but remember that it takes time for friendships to grow and it may take several tries for your child to make friends. Social skills groups should be hard at first, because your child is learning things that ARE tough for them.
9. He or she could learn to build trust in relationships.
It’s not uncommon for the anxiety of a new situation and new people to overwhelm your child. On top of that, negative past experiences with other children might make it difficult for your child to know how to build trust again. Social learning and support could make it an easier transition for your child when change is brewing and they want to gain new relationships. Knowing the stage of the friendship is key for students to understand. For example, for teenagers, a friend you play video games with online is not a close friend. But the teenager may think so. Going through the steps of progression in friendships with your child is one important thing to help.
Social Skills Development at School
We know that social skills development is important, but it’s oftentimes difficult to work it specifically into one’s school day, especially for children with IEPs.
This is why we developed Marvin’s Club, an after-school program that that provides an engaging social curriculum for entire schools, intensive support for children with social learning challenges, and training for school staff. . Unlike local therapy centers, Marvin’s Club participants engage in social learning activities in their own schools – the place where they use their social skills the most. This ultimately helps with generalizing their skills to school and other environments.