Social Thinking: Improving social skills to enhance socio-emotional health

What is social thinking?

Social thinking is what we do when we interact with people. For successful social interactions, it is important that the individual take in and process information embedded in both verbal and non-verbal cues and process how to effectively respond based on the context and topic of presented material. Joint attention, knowledge of expectations regarding behavior, and mental flexibility are all key components for appropriate social relationships. When a child has difficulty with focus, understanding the context of the environment around them, and lacks knowledge of how their behaviors make others feel, social thinking may be impaired.

Social skills deficits can have profound effects on your child’s academic performance, feelings about self, ability to connect with others, and achieve desired wants and needs. Breaking down the components of the social uses of language can help children navigate their social environments and various contexts. For example, children talk differently to their siblings than they would talk to peers at school and might present their anger at mom differently than they would present to their classroom teacher. To enhance the social skills, pragmatic language and engagement in expected behaviors can be targeted by both social workers and speech-Peer pressurelanguage pathologists.

For pragmatic language development, the speech pathologist works towards child comprehension of the context and function of a message and how to use language in social situations, such as turn taking, staying on topic, and how to use verbal and non-verbal signals. In terms of enhancing social relationships, the social worker aids the child in understanding the context of their environment and provides education for impulse control, how to evaluate potential outcomes to enhance positive choice-making, and how various behaviors impact individuals around them.

What you can do at home to improve social thinking

  1. Teach expectations of behavior. If a child can begin to associate engagement in positive behaviors with positive responses from others, and overall enhanced feelings of self as the result, they can then come to recognize the impact of their behavior on others. This can foster increased positive decision-making as they begin to make connections with how their behaviors affect them and those around them. For example, if the child complies with an adult directive, the parent feels happy and may offer praise and positive attention thereby making the child feel good and reaffirms that this choice is the correct choice given the situation.
  2. Differentiate between contexts. Teach your child that what is permissible and “expected” at home may not always be the same across the board. Define what behaviors are appropriate in a variety of situations and explain to your child why these changes exist. For example, you may be able to negotiate your wants and needs at home with your parents but at school, you need to listen and follow teacher directives.
  3. Role Play Scenarios. Practice different situations that allow your child to see the implications of their behavior. Play with your child to model real-life scenarios that would elicit both positive and negative reactions to learn about the interrelation between behavior and emotion. For example, “How would you feel if Tommy took away your toys?” Asking your child how Tommy could make him feel happy or excited about spending time together can help teach appropriate decision-making and modes of interaction.