At a Glance
Children with learning and thinking differences can have trouble with social skills.
Social skills groups can help kids learn and practice important life skills.
Social skills groups are usually small and include children who are about the same age.
Some kids learn to say “please” and “thank you” and to wait their turn by watching others. But kids with learning and thinking differences might not pick up on common social interactions simply through observation. If your child struggles with social skills, a social skills group could help.
Social skills include far more than the ability to communicate with other people. They’re crucial to making friends, succeeding in school and, later in life, getting and keeping a job. Here are answers to common questions parents have about social skills groups.
What are social skills groups?
Social skills groups are small groups (typically two to eight kids) led by an adult who teaches the kids how to interact appropriately with others their age. They can help kids learn conversational, friendship and problem-solving skills. They can also be useful in teaching kids to control their emotions and understand other people’s perspectives.
A school psychologist or a speech therapist might lead a social skills group in school. Groups are also offered privately, outside of school.
How do social skills groups work?
Maybe the kids in the group have trouble starting a conversation—or keeping one going. Or perhaps they don’t understand body language. The group facilitator leads kids through exercises to learn the skills needed to deal with whatever social challenge they’re facing. Most of these meetings include a chance for kids to role-play or practice social skills—and to get feedback on how they’re doing.
What are the benefits of social skills groups?
Kids can learn important skills that they’ll use the rest of their lives. This includes learning how to:
Start a conversation
Respond to others
Maintain a conversation
Share and take turns
Ask for help
Which children can benefit most from social skills groups?
Social skills groups are best for kids who aren’t developing social skills as quickly as their peers. This may include kids with ADHD, who can be too active and physical in their play. It may include kids with nonverbal learning disabilities, who may have trouble picking up on social cues, like body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. It may also include kids with social communication challenges and other types of learning or behavior issues.
When searching for a social skills group for your child, look for one that’s geared for your child’s specific issues (for example, ADHD) and meant for kids who are around your child’s age.
What if I can’t find a social skills group in my area?
If a social skills group isn’t available in your area, or if there aren’t groups targeted to your child’s needs, there are other ways to help your child learn social skills. You can have your child work with a school counselor or other therapist who can use role-playing and model appropriate social behaviors for your child.
There are software programs you can use at home to help build your child’s social skills. And you can develop silent signals to cue your child to remember to say “thank you” or to use a more appropriate tone of voice in social situations.
You also may want to encourage your child to have one-on-one playdates at your home. Many children do better one-on-one than they do in groups, and you can help keep the playdate running smoothly at home.
Kids with all types of learning and behavior issues can benefit from social skills groups.
Many schools provide social skills groups led by a psychologist or a therapist.
You can coach your child on social skills at home, too.