Tips for Parents: How to Make and Keep Friends - Promoting Pro-Social Behavior
McGoey, K.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development
2012

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Kara McGoey, who discusses promoting pro-social behavior among profoundly gifted children. Five themes are described along with specific strategies for promoting pro-social behavior.

The Basics of Social Skills

Having strong social skills consists of two parts. First, you must have the skills to interact with others. This includes the skills to enter a group, hold a conversation, reciprocate conversation and read social cues – both verbal and nonverbal. If a child does not have these skills we need to provide direct instruction on them. This includes explaining the importance of the skills and practicing each of them through role-play and games.

Second, you must perform the social skills in a social situation. Some kids have trouble using the skills they know. This might be due to anxiety, inattention, impulsivity, lack of motivation or interest. In this case, an adult needs to provide support during the social situations. By providing activities with structure (bowling, board games, crafts) the child does not need to improvise and the adult can help monitor the interactions. Role-play can help in this case too. Practice may decrease a child’s hesitation during social interactions. Sometimes providing a child with a goal for the day or week can help too. For example, the child will invite a person to sit by them at lunch everyday of the week.

Remember, each person has different level of desired social interaction. It is okay if a child only has a few friends as long as the child is happy, has the skills and performs them when needed!

Motivating the Unmotivated

Some of the children in our discussion experienced little motivation to make and keep friends with their classmates or neighborhood peers. One of the reasons for the lack of motivation may be the belief that the child did not need the other kids or they could not relate to them. In this case, interventions must proceed with caution. If the child is happy and not upset with the lack of interaction then it may not be the appropriate time to intervene. The child must want to change. However, this does not mean the child can ignore, be rude or exhibit inappropriate behavior. In this case, keep your child relevant by involving them in school activities or activities with other kids. That way, when your child wants to develop more friends, the other kids are accessible and your child has a connection with them.

Specific Strategies for Promoting Pro-Social Skills

  • Teach
    • If the issue is a skill deficit you will need to teach your child the missing skills. Treat this like teaching any other skill (i.e.getting dressed, driving a car). Practice, Practice, Practice.
  • Practice
    • Practice skills by role playing, creating stories and make believe about successful interactions, modeling and creating practice situations.
  • In vivo practice
    • Coach the child during a real interaction. Have a plan for the social situation; practice the plan and then coach during the situation. You may want to set up a secret code for you and the child to encourage them to use appropriate skills.
  • Debrief
    • Talk about successful and unsuccessful situations after the situation is defused. Place as much emphasis on the positive interactions and successful play date as the unsuccessful ones.
  • Set up successful situations
    • Successful Play dates
      • Create a structured play date that leaves little room for conflict. Sometimes a trip to the zoo or movies can provide the activity and talking topics. Make sure the play date is short so that it ends on a positive note.
      • Create a plan for the play date. Schedule games, activities or breaks ahead of time.

Resources

Magination Press
Publishes numerous kid friendly books on feelings, making friends, bullying and other possibly relevant topics.



2004 Seminar TIPS

This article was derived from an online seminar for parents in the Davidson Young Scholar program. The title of the seminar was: How to make and keep friends - Promoting pro-social behavior.

A few themes emerged from our discussions of promoting prosocial behavior of PG kids. These include:

  1. Assess your Child's Skills, Knowledge and Motivation
    Determine whether your child exhibits a skill deficit, performance deficit or just simply lacks motivation to interact with children of the same age. The intervention approach must match the deficit.
  2. Skill Deficit
    Children with a skill deficit do not know what to do when asked. For example, when asked how to greet a new friend, the child would not be able to give an appropriate answer. The intervention would begin by teaching the child appropriate social skills.
  3. Performance Deficits
    A performance deficit occurs when the child can tell you what he or she should do but does not do it in the real situation. The intervention must create supports for the child in the real situation to perform the skills. This is VERY tough to remediate. It takes a lot of support and practice.
  4. Motivating the Unmotivated
    Many of the children in our discussion experienced little motivation to make and keep friends with their classmates or neighborhood peers. One of the reasons for the lack of motivation may be the belief that the PG child did not need the other kids or they could not relate to them. In this case, interventions must proceed with caution. If the PG child is happy and not upset with the lack of interaction then it may not be the appropriate time to intervene. The child must want to change. However, this does not mean the child can ignore, be rude or exhibit inappropriate behavior. PG kids will spend their life dealing with people who are of less intelligence, with less problem solving skills and less of an ability to multi-task. They should be encouraged to develop coping strategies for these situations at a young age.
  5. Don't Teach in Crises
    When children are in the midst of a tough situation, parents or teachers can do nothing but manage the situation. We must teach strategies to prevent the situation at when the child is calm. Practice using modeling, role-play and analog situations during calm, rational moments and then encourage the skills to transfer to the times of crises.

Specific Strategies for Promoting Pro-Social Skills

  • Teach
    • If the issue is a skill deficit you will need to teach your child the missing skills. Treat this like teaching any other skill (getting dressed, driving a car). Practice, Practice, Practice.
  • Practice
    • Practice skills by role playing, creating stories and make believe about successful interactions, modeling and creating practice situations.
  • In vivo practice
    • Coach the child during a real interaction. Have a plan for the social situation; practice the plan and then coach during the situation. You may want to set up a secret code for you and the child to encourage them to use appropriate skills.
  • Debrief
    • Talk about successful and unsuccessful situations after the situation is defused. Place as much emphasis on the positive interactions and successful play date as the unsuccessful ones.
  • Set up successful situations
    • Successful Play dates
      • Create a structured play date that leaves little room for conflict. Sometimes a trip to the zoo or movies can provide the activity and talking topics. Make sure the play date is short so that it ends on a positive note.
    • Plan
      • Create a plan for the play date. Schedule games, activities or breaks ahead of time.
      • Create a plan for handling conflict between the children involved.
  • Have realistic expectations
    • If your child is unmotivated to play with Johnny next door, the chance of a successful play date is remote. Set basic expectations of polite behavior but follow your child’s cue for creating social experiences with other kids.


Resources

The Tough Kid Social Skills Book, Susan M. Sheridan, Ph.D. Sopris West Publishing
Provides assessment, intervention and follow up information to create effective social skills interventions in the school.

Magination Press
Publishes numerous kid friendly books on feelings, making friends, bullying and other possibly relevant topics.


The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.

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