Play Your Way To Better Social Skills

Cathi Cohen, LCSW

“My son can’t cooperate with other kids.”
“My daughter always likes to be boss.”
“Jack constantly interrupts when other children are talking.”
“I wish Julia could see how other kids see her.”

Parents want to help their children make the friends they so strongly desire. They want to help their children learn social skills, but relationships can be tricky business. Many parents seek guidance to successfully tackle these issues. Some parents admit that they themselves had trouble making friends when they were children. Other parents found making friends easy, but cannot say exactly how they did it. “I don’t remember how I made the friends. They were just there.”

Stepping Stones, our social skills training program for children and their parents, trains parents to be social skills coaches. As coaches, parents practice techniques, games, and exercises that help raise their child’s Social IQ. The program is broken down into phases, each one addressing a particular skill or set of skills that can be practiced in a step-by-step manner. As skills are mastered, the child becomes increasingly equipped to make and maintain solid friendships.

Would you like to help your child strengthen their social skills? One important part of Stepping Stones program is practicing social skills at home. The holidays are a great opportunity to spend some family time practicing social skills in a fun way!

Find ways to incorporate the following activities into your holiday schedule; perhaps at dinner time with the family, during car rides, or as part of your bedtime ritual. These games will help beef up your child’s ability to communicate well with others:

1. The Story Game –
Tell a story together with your child, taking turns. You begin. When you stop, it’s your child’s turn to continue the story. Continue passing the story back and forth until it comes to an end. It’s important that your child wait his turn before he speaks, and that his part of the story connects to the piece of the story you just told.

2. The Conversation Game –
Give your child the opportunity to have a conversation with you and your family. The dinner table can be a good place to play this game. Place a container in the center of the table. The goal of the game is for the family to earn more than 25 coins. A family member begins a conversation by asking a question or making a statement. Using coins as rewards, place two coins in the container for every relevant question that is asked following the opening statement. Place one coin in the container for every statement made that is relevant. A coin is removed from the container each time someone does not wait for a pause to speak, or when the subject is changed suddenly. Allow the whole family to play.

3. The TV Talk Show Host Game –
Allow your child to interview you as if he were a TV talk show host. If you can videotape the interview, that’s even better. The host of the talk show has three goals.

Host’s Goals:
* Help make your guest more comfortable by using active-listening techniques
* Ask questions of your guest that show interest.
* Share information about yourself that relates to your guest’s topic.

Guest’s Goals:
* Answer the host’s questions politely.
* Stay focused on the topic.
* Use active-listening techniques

If you are able to videotape, review the talk show afterwards and comment on the skills that the host and the guest did well, as well as areas of needed improvement (on both sides!).

4. The Reflective Listening Game –
This game is a very challenging one that may feel a bit unnatural to play at first. The point of the game is to exercise your listening muscles. You’re not expected to actually listen like this in every day conversation!

Family Member A begins a conversation. For instance, “How was your day at school today?”

Before he responds, Family Member B must reflect back what Family Member A just said. “You want to know how my day was. My teacher yelled at me in front of the class because I forgot to do my homework. How was your day?”

Family Member A responds, “You want to know how my day was. And you had a bad day because your teacher yelled at you. I’m sorry your day was so bad. My day was uneventful.”

Family Member B responds, “Your day was uneventful. Thanks for your sympathy about my day.”

You can reward your family for good reflective listening by using a similar token system as in the Conversation Game. Each time a player feels heard, they can place a coin in the jar. See if you can beat your own record!

5. What Comes Next?
This game will help your child deepen a conversation. A family member brings up a topic of conversation and tosses a ball to the child. In order to toss the ball back, the child must make a comment or ask a question that relates to the topic and will keep the conversation going. This continues like a game of catch until the topic of conversation has been exhausted. You can earn a reward for each comment or question or for beating your own record.

Just like learning to play the piano, skills must be practiced to be truly learned. You will find more activities, tips, and strategies to help you coach your child in Raise Your Child’s Social IQ – Stepping Stones for People Skills For Kids. For more information about Stepping Stones, please call us at 703-876-8480 or see our website

Happy Holidays!

Cathi Cohen LCSW, CGP
In Step – Director