6 Building Blocks of Social Competency
By Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D
To help children become more socially competent, colleagues Marcia Eckerd and Maureen Foley have developed a framework and techniques for teaching fundamental skills.
Children are less likely to be happy and successful if they don’t have the social skills to manage relationships well. Below are six building blocks of social skillfulness, along with easily adaptable teaching strategies that fit into everyday life.
Children need to know the messages their body language, tone, actions, and words are sending. They need to read the feedback of others correctly. You can find examples of good and bad self-awareness and awareness of others in any movie or TV show. Good body language includes making eye contact, posture, gestures, words and tone of voice that send friendly messages.
To model awareness point out body language. For example, “Look at Sandy. She really looks tired. This isn’t a great time to bring up that project.” In addition, look for chances to praise their behavior when they show awareness.
Keep in mind that your child is doing the best he can. Start with a skill at his level, help him to recognize each building block, and use baby steps to teach it.
2. Emotional Self-Control
Children need to be calm to think through social situations. TV, movies and sports are great for pointing out examples of people handling their feelings well or losing control. Use a basketball game to show how players collect themselves by bouncing the ball a few times before taking a foul shot.
Relaxation techniques and positive “self talk” can be used to stay in control. Identify predictable triggers, and help your child find strategies for handling these situations. Cue him to use self-control strategies before he’s too upset to think. A cue might be “keep cool.” Also model appropriate responses. For example, when stuck in traffic, “I could really get upset, but it’s not going to help. We’ll get there.”
3. Getting the Big Picture
This refers to social cognition—being able to think through a situation and recognize others’ points of view. Any show, from SpongeBob through teen movies, has characters missing the point of what’s going on. Suggest that your child “check out the scene” before jumping in. Model talking through social situations such as handling a family get-together. Prompt him when needed and praise him as he gets it.
Once your child is aware, in control and knows what’s going on, he’ll need a tool box of behaviors that he can rely on. Being assertive, listening well, compromising, joining, and follow-through are all important tools. Look for examples of people doing these behaviors well and poorly, practice doing them well, and provide prompts as needed. Often, it’s necessary to break social behaviors down step-by-step so that the process is clear.
5. Predicting Outcomes
Predicting outcomes helps children use their experience to anticipate “what will happen if…” Children often make mistakes over and over, with the same undesirable outcomes. But every child can tell us what makes Mom mad, and they can think about different approaches to deal with it.
6. Social Recovery
Children need to understand that we all make mistakes. It’s important to take responsibility for behavior. “It’s not my fault” is not as good as a sincere “I’m sorry,” even if the outcome was unintended. Talk about when to let things go, how to use humor, and how to move on. Cue the behavior needed, and as always, praise for doing it right, even if it takes prompting.
Patience is key to success. We all get frustrated, but anger backfires; prompting then praising works much better. Expect setbacks. Learning new skills takes time and practice. To help move the process forward, share your cue words with coaches, teachers and other adults who are working with your child. Ultimately, the new behaviors will become automatic.