“She doesn’t notice when others are talking to her”, “He tends to be bossy and gets upset if things don’t go his way”, “She can play well one on one but struggles in a large group”, “He always calls out in class”.
Any of these sound familiar?
Many of the children that we see here at the clinic find social situations challenging. I recently attended a two-day course on Social Thinking which provided a great insight in to the complexity of social challenges. The course highlighted that a child’s social capabilities are integral to their success in life; socially, academically, and professionally.
Social skills are much more than just language. At this course, social thinking was defined as a skill that allows us to apply the four social competencies to social situations. These competencies are:
- Socially attending to the information that we are receiving. This is the ability to read facial expressions, body language, gestures and what is happening in the situation.
- Interpreting what others might be thinking or how they might be feeling based on the information we have gathered. This can also include self-awareness of predicting how our own behaviours might be interpreted by others. We have to understand that others have thoughts about us, even if they don’t say these things out loud.
- Problem solving so we can make decisions about how we should respond. This could be deciding what words to say, what tone of voice to use and how to behave.
- Creating an appropriate social response. Ideally we want to choose a response that considers the thoughts and feelings of those around us.
If we use the iceberg analogy, we can only see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social skills. In order to interact appropriately, we first have to consider what situation and context we are in (social input) and then adapt our skills and responses (words, gestures and facial expressions) based on our understanding of the situation (social output).
Some children are able to tell you everything that they should do in a social situation, but due to a breakdown in social competencies, they find it difficult to implement them in a real situation. Challenges with social competencies can lead to difficulties with a child’s ability to interact with their peers and participate appropriately in class.
3 simple tips to develop your child’s social thinking skills at home:
- Model your own thought processes out loud. For example, if you are at the shops you could say “I can see that there is a line. We can line up at the back of the cue and wait our turn. This will make the other people happy that we didn’t push in”.
- Reflect on how situations could be changed for next time. For example “This morning when your friend came to play, I saw them ask for a turn using your dinosaur toy. You yelled and said that it was your toy and you wouldn’t let them have a turn. This made them feel sad and they might think that you aren’t their friend. What do you think we could do next time?”
- Discuss what characters might be thinking and feeling when you are reading stories or watching cartoons. Ask your child how the characters thoughts and feeling might change if the scenario was different. See if they can predict what might happen next.
Please feel free to contact the clinic and chat to us about how we can assist your child in developing their social thinking skills.
-Katt Matthews, Occupational Therapist