A growing number of parents are finding that Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme doesn’t cover their child’s needs especially if they have high functioning Autism or ADHD. If you’re one of these parents, you’ve likely noticed that the resources necessary to help develop your child’s social skills are few and far between. Therefore, at Ready Kids, we’ve prepared a list of 10 actions you can take today to practice social skills at home.
There are a number of ways you and your child can practice social skills at home, but it requires patience and an open mind. By rehearsing conversations, playing games, and encouraging development, you’ll not only increase their social skills, but you’ll get to know their specific needs on a level that previously may have seemed out of reach.
If you’d like an easy-to-understand list of tips to help your child develop the social skills necessary for their success, we’ve got you covered. Below we will discuss how you can practice social skills at home and then lay out ten specific things you can start doing today, along with a breakdown of how to manifest those tips into activities.
How Can I Practice Social Skills at Home?
It’s easy to assume practicing social skills at home is impossible because we generally think of social situations as things that happen in public. The truth, however, is that your home is one of the safest environments you can use to simulate interactions and practice the skills necessary to pick up on social cues.
To practice social skills at home, you’ll need to dedicate time and patience to your child. Having a plan ahead of time will make it far easier to maintain consistency and track progress. The plan doesn’t necessarily have to be written down, however many have found that it makes follow through easier.
If you can, try to keep some kind of log of how they are doing day by day. This will help when you communicate with their teachers and it will also allow you to see their overall trajectory. Kids have lots of ups and downs, and it can be dependent on how they are feeling that day. However they should be making steady progress overall. If they’re not after a sufficient amount of time, you may want to change your approach and seek advice from health professionals.
1. Develop Your Relationship with Your Child
You can be a more effective teacher if you have a strong relationship with your child. There are a few key steps you can take to strengthen your relationship and gain insights that will speed up the process of your child’s development.
- Dedicate quality time to your child that is not centered around their ADHD or Autism. Spending quality time with your child will help you better understand who they are and will facilitate the trust necessary for structured activities.
- Pay attention to your child’s interests and build upon them. You can help develop confidence and excitement for learning if you know what your child is interested in and you structure activities around that. Though these shouldn’t be the only activities you do, they are a good place to start when it feels like you can’t get any traction.
- Communicate regularly with your child: Whether you’re just asking how they are doing or partaking in a structured activity like reading time; the more you communicate with your child the more they will absorb from your interactions. Constant communication builds trust and sets a good example.
2. Practice Taking Turns Together
Many children with special needs have difficulty delaying gratification and understanding how cooperation works. One of the best ways that you can practice these skills at home is to take turns. There are a few activities that really put turn taking front and center.
- Play games: Games aren’t just for fun. There’s a lot to be learned from them. Playing a simple board game that allows for turn taking is a great way to develop cooperation skills. Before you get too invested in the game however, make sure that your child fully understands how the rules work. If they don’t understand the rules of the game, you can simplify the rules or find another game to play.
- Stacking blocks: If your child isn’t quite ready for a full board game yet, you can break out some Legos or any blocks meant for stacking, and take turns adding block by block until a tower is built. You can even incorporate an incentive structure that allows them to knock over the tower when they’re done if they’ve followed the turn-taking-rules.
- Bedtime Stories: A good way to practice both listening and cooperation skills, is to develop a routine where you and your child take turns picking which bedtime story you’re going to read.
- Meal Planning: Assuming you are offering healthy options, it’s a good idea to take turns planning what you’re going to have for lunch. This can instill a feeling of confidence and self determination in a child while also building on their social skills.
3. Don’t Always Let Them Win
Many children have trouble dealing with the emotions that arise when they lose a game. What’s worse is when they are at school and they lose, the kids who won are likely to gloat. It’s a good idea to provide a safe environment at home where they can get used to the fact that you don’t always win.
When they do win, it’s a great opportunity to set an example. You should comment on how much fun you had playing anyway, and praise them for their win. This teaches them that the point of the game is to have fun and that there’s nothing wrong with losing.
If they get upset when they lose, you can end the game until they come back around. Positive reinforcement when they play nice or apologise after getting upset, will help them learn that you have better luck keeping a game going if you’re a good sport.
4. Strengthen Emotional Vocabulary
Many children who throw tantrums or become physically aggressive, only do so because that’s the only way they can express negative emotions. One of the best ways of curbing this behavior is to expand your child’s emotional vocabulary.
- Zones of Regulation: A popular curriculum developed to help kids with special needs learn how to identify and regulate their emotions, is called the “Zones of Regulation.” Essentially, feelings and behaviors are categorised into four groups; red, blue, yellow and green. Green being in a happy mood and ready to learn and red being angry or out of control. Asking your child to identify what zone they are in and what emotion they are feeling, is a great way of teaching them to communicate their emotions in a rational way.
- Children’s Literature: There’s a whole spectrum of children’s literature which is specifically designed to help boost emotional vocabulary. The Way I Feel by Janan Cain, When I’m Feeling services by Trace Moroney, and In My Heart by Jo Witek are great books to help your child explore different emotions.
- Set an Example: Most of all, children learn by watching others. If you communicate your emotions directly to your child, you’re not only showing them how to do it themselves, but you’re also implicitly letting them know it’s okay to do in the first place. This is especially helpful when you communicate frustration in a calm and understanding manner instead of having an episode yourself.
5. Practice Reading Facial Expressions and Other Nonverbal Cues
Many children struggle with how to read facial expressions and other non-verbal cues. A good way to practice this skill at home, is to read a picture book and have the child identify how they think a character is feeling based on the illustrations. Then read the lines on the page. If they were right, celebrate this with them. If they were wrong, discuss why they thought what they did and point out some key non-verbal cues which indicate the correct emotion.
You can also pause their favorite shows and have them explain what they think the character on screen is thinking or feeling based on their body posture and facial expressions. The main goal is to get them thinking about what expression and body postures might mean on a deeper level.
Another way to expedite this process is to slowly incorporate more non-verbal cues in how you direct them to do their work. For example, if you’re taking turns stacking blocks, give them a look when they skip your turn and let them figure out on their own that they need to take their block back and let you have your turn. For younger children, you might need to over-exaggerate some of these non-verbal cues and facial expressions.
Remember developing this skill takes time to learn. You should never punish a child simply for misunderstanding what you’re trying to communicate. Instead of criticising them when they get it wrong, just let them know what you meant and provide positive reinforcement when they get it right.
6. Rehearse Appropriate Responses
With ADHD in particular, it is sometimes difficult for children to read how others are interpreting their words and actions. A simple rehearsal of common interactions can bring this uncertainty to the forefront and allow them to learn what an appropriate response looks like to any given situation.
Remember to never punish them for responding the wrong way in these simulated interactions. Like with teaching non-verbal skills, at first you want to explain what they did wrong if they make a mistake and praise them when they correct it.
As you go along, instead of always being the one who explains why their response wasn’t appropriate, give them time to puzzle it out themselves. If they can tell you what they did wrong, they are more likely to get it right in the future.
7. Practice Activities that Require Teamwork and Multiple Steps
Finishing a project with your child is not only a great way to bond with them, it’s also a great way to boost their communication skills. In whatever activity you decide to do together, you should assign your child a specific role that requires communication and use both verbal and non-verbal cues to keep them on task.
We’ve outlined a few possible activities you may want to try below.
- Baking cookies: Baking cookies or doing any kind of cooking that you can allow your child to help with, is a great way of practicing teamwork. It’s easy to delineate roles with specific tasks (measuring, stirring, mixing) and the end result makes for a great reward if everything goes right. Just remember to give the child a specific role, and don’t be afraid to change them up each time you do it.
- Puzzles: Puzzles make for a great opportunity to use teamwork. You can establish roles by putting your child in charge of finding similar colored pieces that you’re supposed to put together or vice versa. This is a good place to incorporate both verbal and non-verbal cues when they’re on track.
- Doing dishes: You can set up roles around who washes the dishes and who dries them one at a time. This can help boost your child’s communication skills while simultaneously teaching them responsibility.
8. Engage in Activities that Promote Sharing
There are a couple of ways you can go about doing this. Most obviously you can find something to share with your child; whether it be a snack or time doing something you both like to do. This helps them develop empathy and cooperation skills. Still, there are some less obvious ways in which you can share.
Sharing doesn’t always involve two people being present. You can have your child create a craft for their teacher or someone else they regularly interact with, based on what they think that person likes. This forces them to try to view the world from another’s perspective.
To show them what it is like on the receiving end, you can make something for them based on what they like in the form of a thank you, if they have successfully done so for someone else. This further reinforces the benefits of being willing to share with others.
9. Allow for Technology Focused Communication
With technology, many people are finding themselves on applications such as Zoom or Skype far more often than they used to. These online interactions can actually provide a positive learning experience for your child.
If you are talking to a relative or a friend over the internet, simply allowing your child to watch how you interact can provide them with an excellent example. You can follow this up with virtual playdates, where they can tell their friends all about what they’ve been learning.
You can always give your kids a chance to communicate with their teachers, family members or friends. Remember to always provide positive reinforcement when they express themselves in a way that is appropriate for the situation.
10. Give Them Responsibilities
Giving your child some responsibilities around the house helps them to understand how different people can fulfill different roles for a unified purpose. It will also help them prepare to become highly valued members of a classroom, who are always ready to step up and help get any job done.
Remember to always explain why they need to take personal responsibility. For example, if you’re asking them to clean up their room, try to get them to puzzle out why it is necessary with leading questions. Questions like “how would you find anything if your room stayed a mess?” or “What would happen if we never took out the trash,” can be helpful to them figuring out things for themselves.
Below are a few activities that might be helpful to teach your child personal responsibility.
- Make their bed every morning
- Take out the trash in the evening
- Feed your pets and/or water your plants
Remember that they should also see you doing chores as well; preferably ones that work towards the same purpose. So, if you tell them to clean one room, maybe you could clean the other. Or if you make them take the trash outside, you could be the one who wheels it up to the curb. If you do it this way, you’ll be highlighting the element of cooperation and solidifying your words with real actions.
So, How Can I Help My Child Practice Social Skills at Home?
You can help your child practice social skills at home by dedicating yourself to discovering what their individual needs are and consistently coming up with creative ways to address them. Though we’ve provided a few of those ways here, there are many more you can use to tailor your approach and best meet their needs. Without funding from the National Disability Insurance Scheme, it can sometimes be difficult to know what those ways are.
Fortunately, Ready Kids offers practical strategies for families and support to help your child reach their potential. Ready Kids Membership provides families with full access to resources necessary to aid in your child’s development. Created specifically for parents who are motivated to support their children at home, this platform will walk you through different areas and strategies you can take to increase skills ranging from fine motor, self-care to social. The first step towards helping your child reach their potential starts here.