Monthly Archives: January 2013

Social skills can help some “problem behaviors”

Sometimes we forget that, other than basic bodily functions, just about everything that we do is learned behavior.  In schools we learn obvious things like reading, writing and math.  At home we learn communication, self-help and independent living skills, as well as how to function as part of a family group.  Social skills can, and should be taught everywhere that children can possibly find themselves.https://i0.wp.com/www.myreadablefeast.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/j0410105.jpg

Years ago, entire communities understood their responsibility to socialize children.  By “socialize”, I mean the process of teaching a child the written and unwritten rules of our society.  These rules include things such as how to behave in various situations, how to communicate appropriately, and what to expect from others.  Some rules are a little different for members of specific ethnic, religious or other cultural groups, while other rules are understood by almost all Americans.  In this amazing diverse country of ours, it’s a wonder how so many people are able to figure out how to function with all of the different things to consider.

The key to successfully socializing children is to not assume that they have figured it all out.  In any group of children of the same age in a typical school or community gathering, there will be children who are at very different points on the social learning curve.  Some will be able to easily meet expectations, and others will be clueless about the many factors that should be influencing how they behave.  They may not know that, most of the time, children are expected to speak differently to adults than with other children.  They may not understand the difference between  “inside” and “outside” voices.  They may not understand that personal space boundaries vary depending on the nature of people’s relationships with each other.  They may not realize that what counts as physical play in one setting, can be seen as physically aggressive in another.  They may not understand why certain questions or comments may insult, embarrass or frighten someone else.  They may not have noticed that the rules for male:female interaction have changed as they have gotten older.

Children and young people who violate our social rules may have difficulty making and keeping friends.  They may also find themselves being disciplined and isolated for unknowingly violating social rules.  If the punishment happens without instruction as to what they should do differently in the future, the child may continue to behave in a way that is considered inappropriate.  They could develop low self-esteem and possibly be frustrated to the point of either acting out or withdrawing from social interaction because they can’t figure out how to prevent the missteps from happening.

Children need to be taught social skills just like they are taught other skills! If a child behaves inappropriately, the adult in the environment should always stop and consider whether the behavior in question could be the result of a social skill deficit.  Always use these occasions as teachable moments, rather than presume malice and intentional disobedience.  Help them understand the context of that situation and describe alternative ways to behave or interpret the behavior of others.  Even if the child does “know better”, it won’t hurt to remind him of what doing better looks like.

Social skills are taught over time, so there is no quick fix that will instantly eliminate all behavior issues.  Building those skills, however, is really the only way to give that child or young adult the best chance for the high quality of life experience that we want for them.

It’s time for a mid-year school check up

We are just about at the halfway point in the school year.  Report cards will be coming home.  If your child receives special education services you should also get a report on his/her progress on their IEP goals.  This is a great opportunity to think about how things are going and whether or not some changes need to be made.  Ideally, we would all like to have a happy, socially-successful child who is learning and developing at or above the expected rate in all areas.  If that describes your child, you should give a word of thanks to all who have helped make this happen!

However,check-up-bottom not everyone is going to be so fortunate.  If there are things that concern you about your child’s education, there is still time to take actions that could help.

If your child’s grades are lower than you think they should be, try to get to the root of the problem.  Is your child having difficulty learning the material being taught? Is he doing poorly on tests even though he seems to understand the work?  Is she doing fine on tests, but has a low grade average because of zeros for several school assignments that were never completed or turned in?  Has your child missed a lot of instruction because of disciplinary actions that have taken him out of the classroom too many times?

Even if the grades are okay, there may be other reasons to be concerned.  The grades may seem to be inconsistent with what you see when your child is doing home work.  The progress on IEP goals may be moving much slower than expected.  Instructional assessments may show that the gap between your child’s skills and the achievement standard for his grade is getting wider instead of more narrow.  Is your child saying, or showing, that she does not want to go to school?  Are you getting more reports about problem behavior at school?

If you do see any red flags, the first action to take is to try to understand what is working and exactly where there may be some problems.  Talk to your child and your child’s teacher(s).  Ask what you can do at home to help your child be more successful.  Work with the teacher(s), other school staff, and the IEP team as appropriate to come up with solutions to any problems that are identified.  Make adjustments in terms of instruction, materials, strategies, accommodations, services, supports, environment…whatever makes sense for your child at this time.  Keep an eye on things to see if there is improvement or a need to try something else.

Your child is the winner when his educational team is working together toward the same goal!winner