Starting the new school year is full of new and exciting adventures. Kids are presented with a variety of both old and new challenges including how to make, and keep friends. It’s important for therapists, parents, and teachers to be aware of this challenge and help our kids out in any way we can.

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In order to make friends, kids and teens need to have knowledge of basic social skills as well as feel confident enough to put these skills into action. Listed below are 5 basic socials skills that are crucial to making and keeping friends.

Perspective Taking

The idea of being able to take another’s’ perspective is also called Theory of Mind. It’s the ability to intuitively track what others know and think during personal interactions.  We use this information to understand and then monitor out own responses- verbal and nonverbal-in the presence of others.

Tip:

  • This is a fun skill to work on during story books, movies, or tv shows. Ask your child to make a guess about how the situation presented might be seen differently for different people.

Hidden Rules

Every social situation has “hidden rules” and range of social expectations that are generally understood but are not usually stated or explicitly taught. Doing what is expected means figuring out those rules and aligning our behavior (what we say and do) with the expectations of the situation. Doing what is unexpected means one does not figure out and/or follow the hidden rules for the situation.  We adapt our behavior to keep others feeling comfortable and having good thoughts about sharing space with us, which ultimately keeps us feeling comfortable, too.

Tip:

  • Discuss the hidden rules of social situations prior to your child participating in them.

Identifying Thoughts and Feelings

Before being able to understand others’ perspective, we need to be able to identify how an individual is feeling and what they may be thinking about. In therapy, children are asked to identify a variety of emotions and feelings by analyzing a person’s facial expressions, tone of voice and body language.

Tips:

  • Encourage your child to identify others’ feelings during incidental scenarios.
  • Encourage them to make a smart guess regarding why a person may be having a certain feeling.
  • Additionally, urge your child to reflect on their own feelings and why they may be feeling a certain way.

Reading Non-Verbal Cues

Nonverbal communication includes not only facial expressions, but gestures, eye gaze, body posture, tone of voice, body orientation, and movement between speakers and objects. It is important to recognize that nonverbal communication is not universal and does not transfer meaning between culture and religion. Reading non-verbal cues is crucial during social interactions. Being able to interpret how a communication partner is feeling about a social situation conversation will heavily guide a successful communication.

Tip:

  • This skill is easiest to target in a naturally occurring social situation and can be discussed afterward. Encourage your child to watch for the above listed non-verbal cues.

Conversational Skills

Having a successful conversation is imperative to making and keeping friends. In order to have a fluent and positive conversation there are four keys components that are crucial to every conversation.

Commenting

Commenting is essential because it lets others know that you are listening to them. It lets them know you are engaged and you are paying attention. People like to talk to people who pay attention to them.

Reciprocal Questions

It’s generally considered rude when someone asks you how you are and you don’t ask them back. People take that as a lack of interest. Friends are interested in their friends. When a friend gets asked a question, they ask it back because they are interested in their friend’s response.

Staying on Topic

We need our kids to be flexible and be willing to talk about topics that aren’t their favorite. That means staying on topic and not diverting it to reptiles or American Airlines the second they get the chance.

Initiating Conversations

Some of our kids may be great conversationalists once they get on a roll when someone starts chatting them up. But what about beginning a conversation on their own? It’d be a boring world if we sat around all day waiting for others to talk to us. We want our learners to appropriately and effectively initiate their own conversations without missing a beat.

Tips:

  • You can help your child practice conversational skills by modeling these skills for your child at the dinner table. Practicing these skills at home in a safe space can make using these skills in other environments less challenging.
  • Encourage your child to stay on topic. If they go off of topic you could say “Oh, I was talking about ____. Can we finish talking about that before we talk about your idea?”
  • Urge your child to ask their family members reciprocal questions.

Stay involved in your child’s social life throughout the school year. Ask your child about their friends and encourage them to provide you with information about what their friend’s interests are, what kinds of activities they have in common and how their interactions with friends have been going. This will encourage your child to continue thinking about their friends while giving you an opportunity to check-in with how these friendships are developing and provide your child with appropriate advice if needed.

Have a great school year, everyone!

Written By: Rebecca Phillips MS, CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist

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