CHILDREN WITHOUT FRIENDS, PART 4: IMPROVING SOCIAL SKILLS


National Network for Child Care's Connections Newsletter

Gladys A. Williams, M.P.H.
Doctoral Student, Clinical Psychology
Department of Psychology
University of Illinois - Urbana

Steven R. Asher, Ph.D.
Director
Bureau of Educational Research
University of Illinois - Urbana

Copyright/Access Information


In our last article we introduced Nick, a third-grade boy who was disliked by many of his peers. As we discussed, the staff in his program spent a week observing him. They learned that Nick had more strengths than they had realized, and that his problems involved two types of situations: competitive sports or games, and being teased by his peers. The staff found that Nick had specific social skill deficits in these situations. For example, he did not seem to know what to do when he was losing or being teased. In addition, his basic skills in sports (e.g., throwing or catching a ball and hitting a tetherball) were poor. In this article, we describe how a child like Nick could be helped in his peer relations.

Nick would probably benefit from a two-part intervention. One part is "tutoring" in sports and games skills. Learning games and becoming reasonably proficient at them can help many rejected children move in a more positive social direction. There are many ways to provide this help. For example, individual tutoring or coaching could be provided by an older child, by staff, by a volunteer, or by a parent or older sibling. It is important that the relationship be warm and positive. It is also important that the child being tutored have fun.

The second part of the intervention for Nick is the focus of the rest of this article: social skills coaching. Many of the ideas we will present here come from work by Oden and Asher (1977). (For a detailed description of the procedure, see Oden, Asher, and Hymel, 1977.) Social skills coaching involves direct, individual instruction in social skills by a concerned, responsive adult. Children often behave inappropriately because they do not know what to do in certain social situations. The job of the adult "coach" is to teach the child to think about and use social interaction concepts that can help social relationships go smoothly.

Here's the way each coaching session runs: The session has three parts. First, the coach talks with the child about one or more social interaction concepts, and about reasons for using the concepts. It is important to word concepts positively, telling the child what he or she should do, rather than focusing on what not to do. Second, the child practices using the concepts in an activity with other children. Third, the coach and child talk again to review the child's use of the concepts during the activity.

What concepts should a child be taught? First, we believe that all children can benefit from learning four basic interaction concepts: participation, communication, cooperation, and validation-support. These basic concepts were taught in a research study by Oden and Asher (1977) and these, or similar concepts, have been used in many studies since (see Coie & Koepple, 1990; Ladd & Asher, 1985). Figure 1 shows these basic concepts. Under each concept, several behavioral examples are listed that can be used to help children understand its meaning.

Second, we think that a particular child may also benefit from being coached in additional concepts that he or she needs to learn. Deciding on which follow-up concepts to teach requires creative thinking about the child's needs. Nick, for example, needs to learn alternatives to insulting others, arguing about rules, and quitting the game. One broad concept that describes what Nick needs to learn is "Being a good sport when you're losing." A second problem is that Nick pays attention only to his own performance in team sports. A concept to describe the team-related skills he needs is "Being a good team member." Finally, Nick needs to learn new ways to respond to teasing. These skills can be covered under the concept of "Keeping your cool." Figure 1 includes the follow-up concepts for Nick and several behavioral examples that can be used to teach each concept.


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FIGURE 1: COACHING NICK: SOCIAL INTERACTION CONCEPTS WITH EXAMPLES

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COOPERATION

- Take turns

- Share the game or materials

- Make a suggestion if there is a problem with a game

- Give an alternative if there is a disagreement about the rules


PARTICIPATION

- Get involved

- Get started

- Pay attention to the game or activity


COMMUNICATION

- Talk with the other person

- Say things about the game or yourself

- Ask a question about the game or other person

- Listen when the other person talks

- Look at the other person to see how he or she is doing


VALIDATION - SUPPORT (Friendly-Fun-and-Nice)

- give some attention to the other person

- Say something nice when the other person does well

- Give a smile sometimes

- Offer some help or suggestions


BEING A GOOD SPORT WHEN LOSING

- Congratulate the winner

- Compliment the other player's skills

- Shake hands and say, "It was a good game."

- Say something nice about the game

- Say something funny about yourself


BEING A GOOD TEAM MEMBER

- Be friendly-fun-and-nice with teammates (see earlier concept)

- Cheer for everyone on your team

- Keep playing for the whole game

- Pay attention to how the team is doing


KEEPING YOUR COOL

- Grin

- Make a joke

- Keep your voice calm and quiet

- Leave quietly

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Now let's turn to the topic of teaching concepts such as those in Figure 1. Each concept is taught by having the coach draw out the child's ideas of what the concept or idea means. This is done by using behavioral examples. The coach should have a list of examples in mind for each concept, and should add these examples to those the child thinks of.

Let's imagine coaching Nick. In the first session, the coach would begin by explaining to Nick why they were meeting. The explanation should include a reason for using the concepts. The coach might say, "I want to talk with you about some ideas I have about things that make it fun to play with other kids. I'd like to talk with you about the ideas, and then have you try them out and let me know if they help make things more fun." Then the first concept would be introduced: "The first idea is 'cooperating.' Can you tell me what cooperation means?"

Coach: Can you tell me what cooperation is?

Nick: Umm ...Sharing.

Coach: Yes, sharing. Let's say you and I were drawing a picture. What would be an example of sharing?

Nick: I'd let you use some of my markers.

Coach: Right! Letting me share the markers is an example of cooperating. What's another way to cooperate?

Nick: Well...

Coach: Let's say we were practicing shooting baskets, and we had only one basketball. How might we cooperate?

Nick: By taking turns.

Coach: Yes, that's a way to cooperate (etc.).

The discussion is followed by the practice part of the session. The coach would ask Nick to try out the ideas they talked about, and tell him that they will talk afterwards about how it went. Then Nick would play a game with another boy his age for about 12 minutes. The coach would non-obtrusively watch the game, noticing when Nick used one of the ideas they had talked about, and when he did not use the ideas.

The third part of the session is the review. Here, the coach asks the child to talk about how he or she used their ideas during the activity. Nick's coach could say, "So, how did it go? Did you have fun? Did the other kid have fun playing with you? Can you think of a time when you cooperated? What did you do? Do you think that made it more fun? How else did you cooperate?" The coach would listen to Nick's reactions and would also give him positive feedback. This review should take about five minutes, and then the coach would say, "Why don't you keep using this idea when you play with other kids. Let's meet again in a couple days. You can tell me whether the idea of cooperating made things more fun."

At each of the next three sessions, the coach and Nick would start by talking about the concept(s) they had already discussed, and about Nick's use of them since the last session. Then the next concept would be introduced and the session would proceed like the first session. There should be a new game and a new play partner for each session, both chosen in advance by the coach.

The sessions that teach the individualized concepts could be set up basically the same way. Some minor changes may be needed. With Nick's first two follow-up concepts, for example, the practice activities should be chosen carefully. In order to practice "being a good sport when losing," a very short game would be best. Many games could be completed within a 12-minute period of time, hopefully giving Nick several chances to practice losing graciously. For practicing "being a good team member," the activity should be a game that involves two teams of two children.

For Nick's third follow-up concept, "keeping your cool" when being teased, a change is needed in the reason for using the concept as well as in the activity. The coach could explain, "Often, when kids tease someone, it's because they like to get that person upset. Today, I'd like to talk with you about the idea of 'keeping your cool' when you get teased. If you can keep your cool, kids won't tease you as much after a while." To allow practice in "keeping your cool," role-playing would probably be more effective than playing a game with another child. The coach could act out the part of a kid who teases Nick, and Nick would practice his new responses with this "kid." Nick and the coach would then review how Nick did in this artificial situation. The coach would then ask Nick to try the idea out whenever anyone started to tease him in the next couple of days.

We hope the ideas we have presented here are useful. For more information, you might consult some of the readings listed below.


REFERENCES

Coie, J. D., and Koepple, G. K. (1990). Adapting intervention to the problems of aggressive and disruptive rejected children. In S. R. Asher & J. D. Coie (Eds.), *Peer Rejection in Childhood* (pp. 309-337). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ladd, G. W., & Asher, S. R. (1985). Social skill training and children's peer relations. In L. L'Abate & M. A. Milan (Eds.), *Handbook of Social Skills Training and Research* (pp. 219-244). New York: Wiley.

Oden, S., & Asher, S. R. (1977). Coaching children in social skills for friendship making. *Child Development*, 48, 495-506.

Oden, S., Asher, S. R., & Hymel, S. (1977). *Procedures for Coaching Socially Isolated Children in Social Skills*. Unpublished manual, University of Illinois.




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National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the National Extension Service
Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce
these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of
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Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Williams, G.A. & Asher, S. R. (1993). Children without friends, Part 4: Improving social skills. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *School-age connections*, 3(2), pp. 3p;6. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.


FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Internet
DOCUMENT REVIEW:: Level 3 - National Peer Review
DOCUMENT SIZE:: 20K or 7 pages
ENTRY DATE:: February 1996