Navigating and learning how to be successful in social situations can be a difficult process. Everyone has probably experienced at least one social situation where they either handled it poorly or were not sure what path they should take. For children, the same situation can occur, and for some it occurs often. For those who regularly experience difficulty in social situations, social skills groups can help.
Social skills groups are different than a traditional play-date or peer-based hangout – they are a supervised therapeutic event where the goal is to help children and adolescents gain skills in social interaction. These groups help children learn joint attention, problem solving, and how to handle the challenges of social situations while having positive and fun social experiences with peers.
“Any child can benefit from a social skills group, but they are often geared towards children and adolescents ages 5-16 years,” explains Jill Fodstad, Ph.D., HSPP, BCBA-D, clinical psychology at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. “Social skills are essential life skills that foster success, happiness, and health. The skills taught vary by age and developmental level of the children in the group, but some examples include using and understanding appropriate body language, understanding other people’s body language, understanding and expressing emotions, initiating and responding to interactions with peers, taking turns, gaining self-control, anger management, accepting consequences, and coping with teasing and bullying.”
Children who benefit the most from a structured social skills group are those who are not developing social skills as quickly as their peers, which may include children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), learning difficulties, cognitive delays, or communication difficulties or delays, according to Dr. Fodstad.
Research indicates that regardless of a child’s diagnosis, social skills can be extremely effective in increasing a child’s ability to be successful in peer situations. These groups help reduce a child’s experience of school failure or peer rejection, and also reduce aggressiveness or isolation that often develops because of problems relating to others.
There are several resources available to find a social skills group that will work for your child. Pediatricians, school counselors, mental health facilities and private counseling or psychology practices can often recommend local groups. Service agencies and non-profits like Easter Seals, Boys and Girls Club, or the YMCA may either offer groups or provide recommendations. Joining a local support group is also a good place to ask for advice.
When looking for a social skills group, there are several things to consider:
1. The group should be small, about 3-8 kids.
2. Children in the group should be similar in age and on a similar developmental level.
3. The curriculum covered is adapted to suit the needs of the children in the group so that each child benefits.
4. The group is led by a qualified professional, such as a school psychologist, clinical child psychologist, social worker or speech pathologist who has extensive experience facilitating social skills groups.
5. The group meets weekly or every other week.
6. The parent/caregiver is also given instructions or training on what their child is learning and how to facilitate the child practicing the skills learned on a daily basis outside of group time.
Insurance coverage will vary across companies and plans, depending on who is providing the social skills group, where will the group be located, and the purpose or aims of the group.
“Outcomes are going to vary depending upon the child, but without helping your child practice the skills outside of the actual group, it will be harder for the child to be successful in using the skills and having positive peer experiences,” explains Dr. Fodstad. “As a general rule of thumb, if a child is consistently attending a weekly social skills group, the parent is highly involved in learning what is being taught, and the child practices using the skills, then it would not be unreasonable to say that the parent might start to see some positive change in their child in as little as two to three weeks.”
-- By Gia Miller