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How to Teach Social Skills to Children With Behavior Problems

by Jennifer Zimmerman

Some children have behavior problems because of their poor social skills, while others have poor social skills because their behavior problems prevent them from practicing social skills with friends. Good social skills are crucial to success in life, as they help us know what to say, how to make good decisions, and how to behave in many situations, says the National Association of School Psychologists.

Preparation

Identify the appropriate rewards. You want children to be motivated to pay attention during lessons and to try new behaviors, so you'll need to reinforce them. You might give out tickets that will be able to "buy" prizes or give group or individual points toward a special outing or toy.

Identify and define the specific target behaviors you want to teach. You might want to follow a curriculum like the "Stop and Think" Social Skills Program or the Primary Mental Health Project. Or you can simply list the behaviors you would like your child to develop.

Organize your list of target behaviors. You'll want to teach the easy-to-learn skills first so that your children experience success. Not only will this motivate them, it will help boost their self-esteem.

Find other possible learners. You might want to include a sibling or a neighbor with similar struggles so that kids can learn together.

Teaching

Introduce the topic. Explain why learning social skills is important and how it can help each child.

Share the rules and expectations. Tell your children what kind of behaviors you are looking for and how they will be rewarded when they perform them. Taking turns and speaking kindly are two behaviors that should be rewarded. Some kids may need to start by learning how to take turns.

Introduce the first desired behavior. You may have a hand-out, or you may write out the desired behavior and what it looks like on chart paper. Have children discuss when the behavior should be used and why it's a better choice, such as using words when angry instead of hitting.

Have children role play, encouraging them to act out the appropriate behavior in several different situations so that they can understand what it feels like to use the appropriate social skill. If you're teaching one on one, this may be a time to enlist family members or friends to assist with role playing opportunities.

Practice social skills regularly. Look for opportunities to practice beyond the structured lesson time. Kids working on polite conversation can call a grandparent, for example.

Items you will need
  • Tickets
  • Chart paper
  • Markers

Tip

  • Constantly monitor social behavior and reward your children whenever they make good choices, not just during lesson time.

Warning

  • Don't forget to include teachers, family members and friends so that they can reinforce and reward appropriate social skills.

About the Author

Jennifer Zimmerman is a former preschool and elementary teacher who has been writing professionally since 2007. She has written numerous articles for The Bump, Band Back Together, Prefab and other websites, and has edited scripts and reports for DWJ Television and Inversion Productions. She is a graduate of Boston University and Lewis and Clark College.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images