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Champions

Championships Are Won at Practice; Mastering Social Skills Is Just the Same!

February 15, 2018     By By Erin Green, MS, Director, Boys Town Press

Competing with Character, Parenting Skills, Social Skills, Sports, Today's Family, Understanding Behavior

Teaching appropriate prosocial (or social) skills to children and praising them when they use these skills has been linked to success later in life. It should be the first thing parents think of when they consider what they want their children to learn at home.

So, what exactly are social skills?

Social skills are the tools that enable people to communicate, learn, ask questions, ask for help, get their needs met in appropriate ways, get along with others, make friends, and develop healthy relationships. Social skills enable people to interact appropriately with those they meet in their journey through life.

Teaching your children foundational skills, such as "Following Instructions," "Accepting 'No' for an Answer," and "Disagreeing Appropriately," helps them navigate basic interactions with those in authority (parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses) and paves the way for success at home, in school, in the workplace, and beyond. In addition, these skills are building blocks upon which more complex and advanced skills can be based.

Consider the adage, "Championships are won at practice!" Most good coaches would agree with that. Picture a team of 10-year-old baseball players. Some have played before, and were taught the basics of throwing, fielding, catching, and batting. Depending upon their own natural talent, the quality of teaching that came before, their practice outside of team events, their ability to "catch on quickly," and other influences, each brings a different level of ability when he or she walks up to the plate to face a pitcher. Others have never played before—they may never have even tossed or caught a ball.

Though the fundamentals of what the coach is teaching remain consistent—the way a good coach works with each player, the language used, the way the ball is tossed or a grounder is hit—are all individualized to meet the needs of that player. Some lessons are taught to and practiced by the whole team, some are taught and practiced in small groups, and some are taught and practiced individually. But all of them are done the same way—taught and practiced.

Boys Town's approach to social skills teaching aligns with this model. Skills are taught, practiced, reinforced, and corrected, over and over again, until children attain mastery. And even then, reminders or prompts may be needed. So, no matter how old your children are, you can use the same approach to teaching social skills with all of them while adjusting the language you use to fit their level of understanding. That's one of the key advantages of social skills teaching. It can be individualized to meet the needs of each child.

Your children also need to know upfront what is expected of them. When it comes to teaching social skills to their children, parents will spend most of their time focusing on general rules, procedures, or skills that are expected at home and in the outside community.

Some children may have difficulty in specific situations or with specific skills. Providing more focused social skill teaching is appropriate when you observe repeated misbehaviors or problems. Often, a quick review of the skill steps and a discussion of how to appropriately respond to feedback are necessary when focusing on a particular skill. This type of skill teaching is appropriate in situations where a parent knows their child has struggled before. Providing a quick reminder of the skill—followed immediately by an opportunity to practice—allows for more targeted teaching, allowing children to apply the skill in a real-life situation.

For example, a parent might say, "We're about to go into the grocery store. There are going to be a lot of goodies we pass that look yummy, but they are not on our grocery list for today. If you ask if you can have something that is not on the list, the answer is probably going to be 'No.' Remember, when you accept a 'No' answer, you should look at me, stay calm and say, 'Okay.' That way, you and I are more likely to get in and out of the store quickly, and get back home in time to play a bit before dinner."

Keep in mind that if your child shows a consistent inability to meet an expectation that you've taught, practiced and reinforced, it could be a function of a variety of different reasons. But addressing the skill specifically with your child allows for more targeted teaching and problem-solving, and increases the likelihood of the child eventually finding success.

Social skills training programs have repeatedly demonstrated effectiveness in developing a wide range of interpersonal behaviors and skills in diverse populations of children and adolescents. The quality of any social skills training effort is enhanced by understanding and recognizing the complexity of social interactions, choosing appropriate social skills for normalizing those interactions, and teaching skills in meaningful ways that can be valued by youth and the community in which they live.

Remember, those MLB players didn't become All-Stars by accident! In addition to their own hard work and determination, someone took the time to teach those players the fundamental skills they needed, and to practice with and reinforce them appropriately. Parents are continually the "all-star" teachers in their children's lives! Setting them up for future success—to be champions on their own—means helping them build and practice the foundational skills they need now.

Learn more about social skills training with resources from the Boys Town Press®.

As director of the Boys Town Press, Erin Green plans and oversees the production every year of dozens of children's books, activity guides, parenting resources, educational materials, and other items that benefit parents, educators, and child care professionals. Erin's experience as a mom, an educator, and an advocate of Boys Town's mission put her in a unique position to share valuable advice with caregivers of children of all ages. To explore more parenting resources, visit boystownpress.org.

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