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Social Skills


The main goal of social skills is to teach and enhance interpersonal skills that are needed for a child to be successful in social situations
– K Koscelníková, 2009 


What are social skills?


Purpose of Social Skills groups is the aim to teach and develop social and behavioural skills that may be absent or ineffectively used.

To provide a caring environment for children to learn by encouragement, experience and practice. As well as working on developing the skills within the group sessions, it is important that these are followed through at home as this will increase the chances of success.

Who would benefit from being included in a social skills group?


The following are potential participants of a social skills group.

Children who find it difficult to make and keep friends.

Children who are not asking for help when needed because they do not know how to effectively seek help from adults and other children.

Children who attract attention by use of negative processes and behaviours such as attention seeking behaviours, calling out inappropriately, inappropriate social contacts and those exhibiting difficulties with basic social skills such as listening, turn taking and sharing.

It is envisaged that the group will be run in a way that is attentive to the needs of each individual participant. Because the number of pupils involved will be fewer than in an average class, more attention can be given on a one-to-one basis. This attention may go some way toward meeting individual special educational needs; difficulties with regards to some aspects of social skills acquisition. Social skills are the skills we use to communicate and interact with each other, both verbally and non-verbally, through gestures, body language and our personal appearance.

Human beings are sociable creatures and we have developed many ways to communicate our messages, thoughts and feelings with others.

How can you tell if your child has problems with social skills?


If a child has difficulties with social skills they might:

  • Use fleeting eye contact, does not consistently use eye contact or stares at you fixedly.

  • Not be able to take turns when talking to their communication partner.

  • Struggle with using appropriate body language (e.g. stands too close/far to another person).

  • Fail to use polite forms of communication (e.g. saying: please, thank-you, hello and good-bye).

  • Be unable to start and end conversations appropriately.

  • Interrupt others frequently.

  • Be unable to maintain a topic of conversation and provides irrelevant comments during a conversation.

  • Talk ‘at you’ in a conversation as opposed to engaging in a two way conversation ‘with’ you.

  • Not ask appropriate questions.

  • Repeat information in conversation and tend to talk about topics of their own interest (e.g. trains, a favourite TV show/person).

  • Show little or no interest in what the other person has to say.

  • Fail to understand jokes and language, such as sarcasm, idioms and non-literal information (e.g. ‘this place is a pig sty!’).

  • Interpret what you say in a very literal way (e.g. when you say “Can you open the door?” the child “yes” without moving to actually open the door).

  • Talk with unusual speed, stress, rhythm, intonation, pitch and/or tone of voice.

  • Unable to understand different tones of voice or read facial cues.

  • Fail to ask for clarification if they are confused or if the situation is unclear to them.

  • Struggle to respond appropriately when asked to change their actions.

  • Tend to disclose (excessively) personal information to unfamiliar people or strangers.

  • Appear unaware of others and fail to read other people’s feelings based on their verbal and non-verbal cues.

  • Unable to respond to teasing, anger, failure and disappointment appropriately.

  • Unable to adjust or modify their language appropriately according to the communication situation.

  • Lack empathy (i.e. is not able to imagine what it is like to be somebody else or in their situation).

  • Lack imagination.

  • Appear self-centred.

  • Fail to understand the consequences of their actions.

This may not be the case for all children whom display social difficulties

School Children
Students Sitting on Staircase
Boys at School

Why are social skills important?


Social skills are vital in enabling an individual to have and maintain positive interactions with others. Many of these skills are crucial in making and sustaining friendships. Social interactions do not always run smoothly and an individual needs to be able to implement appropriate strategies, such as conflict resolution when difficulties in interactions arise. It is also important for individuals to have ’empathy’ (i.e. being able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and recognise their feelings) as it allows them to respond in an understanding and caring way to how others are feeling.

When children have difficulties with social skills, they might also have difficulties with:

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Making new friends

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Maintaining friendships with peers.

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Communicating effectively with unfamiliar individuals during situations including asking for assistance in a shop, asking for directions if they are lost and negotiating with someone with whom they have had a disagreement

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Reading/understanding social situations.

When a child has social skill difficulties, they might also have difficulties with:

Self regulation:




Sensory processing: 


Completing academic work:

Receptive (understanding) language: 

Expressive (using) language: 



The ability to obtain, maintain and change one’s emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner.

The child’s actions, usually in relation to their environment (e.g. a child may engage in behaviour, such as refusing to go to social events including birthday parties or engage in inappropriate behaviour, such as tugging on a peer’s hair or yelling at someone to get their attention).

The child may have trouble attending or focusing and have difficulty interpreting information they receive from the environment.

(e.g. the child may misinterpret verbal or written instructions for tasks and/or struggle with imaginative writing).

Comprehension of language.

The use of language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants and needs, thoughts and ideas.

Clarity of speech sounds and spoken language.

Activities that help improve social skills?

What type of therapy is recommended for social skill difficulties?

If your child has difficulties with social skills, and there are multiple areas of concern (i.e. beyond just attending a social skills group)

*Both an Occupational Therapist and Speech and language Therapist may be needed and recommended to address the functional areas of concern

Visuals: Make up a poster of rules to remember when starting a conversation (e.g. using a friendly voice, making eye contact, using appropriate greetings, such as ‘hello’).

Role play: Practise playground/party scenarios where the child does not know anybody. Model and create a list of different things you can say:

  • To join others who are playing (e.g. “Can I play too?”).

  • To introduce yourself (e.g. “Hi my name is ….”).

  • To politely negotiate with peers (e.g. “I don’t want that one. Can I have the blue car please?”).


Sing songs: such as ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ to help teach a child about different emotions.

Masks: Make masks together to help improve eye contact.

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