Preparing For School By Teaching Social Skills

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Backpack, check. Pencils, check. Social skills, wait was that on the list?

The end of the summer is filled with preparations for the upcoming school year. We prepare for changes to routines, schedules, and expectations by mapping out the weeks ahead and checking items off of our to-do lists. Our children, on the other hand, are “here and now” thinkers and are wrapped up in all of the fun they are having. Before August comes to an end, take time to consider the new people and situations your child will experience this coming school year. They may encounter new teachers, friends, school buildings, bus stops, and so much more. Children can have a difficult time with transition and in a season of so much change, we can help prepare them ahead of time by teaching social skills. Social skills such as introducing yourself, staying calm, asking for help, and following instructions will be valuable tools to help ease them into the new school year and prepare them for success throughout life.

Social skills are learned and practiced and we can make a point every day to instill these skills into our children through preventing teaching measures. The Common Sense Parenting class developed by Boys Town and taught locally through EAC Network’s Long Island Parenting Institute, helps parents equip children with social skills through a parenting technique called “Preventive Teaching.”

Here are the steps to preventive teaching and how you can use this skill to help prepare your children for the changes ahead.

Step One: Describe the Desired Behavior

Describe in detail what your expectation is for a particular social skill. For example, rather than simply saying “introduce yourself and make new friends,” you can outline the scenario for your child and clearly describe your expectations. Say instead, “Billy, when you see someone you’ve never met before, look at them and introduce yourself by saying your name and asking for theirs. After you have learned each other’s names, you can share something interesting about yourself and ask questions about the other person. Remember to smile and use a pleasant tone of voice.” This kind of description takes the guesswork out for our children and sets them up for success.

Step Two: Give a Reason

Next, show your child the benefit to using social skills by highlighting what’s in for them. When it comes to making friends for example, you might say, “Billy, when you introduce yourself and ask others questions about themselves, it shows that you’re interested in them and they are more likely to want to be your friend.”

Step Three: Practice

Check that your child understands the taught social skill by allowing them time to practice it with you. Practice should be fun and can be done through pretend or role play. For example, you might say to your child, “Billy, let’s pretend that we’ve never met and you see me at school. What would you say and do?” A dialogue and role play would continue to see what skills Billy is confident in and what skills he needs more practice in.

With so many changes ahead, try Preventive Teaching to alleviate anxiety and tensions for yourself and for your children. And don’t stop once school starts. Children always benefit from clear expectations and lots of practice.

For more information on this skill and others, parents can register for the Common Sense Parenting class by contacting the Long Island Parenting Institute.

Kathryn Cannino is a mom of two and the program director of EAC Network’s Long Island Parenting Institute. She has a passion for educating and empowering parents to become confident and effective parents. She completed her undergraduate degree in Human Development and Family Science and her Master’s degree in Counseling Education and is a Certified Lactation Counselor and a Certified Family Life Educator through the National Council on Family Relations. She is dedicated to her work with Long Island families.

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