Social Skills for the Child with Learning and Attention Issues
This article provides helpful information for children struggling with social skills. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.
As a parent of a child with a learning disability, I frequently research ways to help my child achieve academically. His overall school experience is more positive when I put extra time into setting up programs for him, plan new activities and work closely with the teachers and support staff at the school. While working with schools, teachers and educators can have its challenges; it’s the social experience that is much harder to control, especially when your child has learning delays. Social skills can be one of the toughest challenges for your child. In fact, 70 percent of children with learning disabilities have major difficulties socially when dealing with their peers. In contrast, only 15 percent of kids without learning disabilities struggle socially. (Lavoie, 2008)
First of all, it’s important for a parent to be interested in their child’s social development. Social growth is a critical part of your child’s success and happiness as they grow older. When your child is young, you have a greater influence on their social intelligence. You can teach and assist your child with social skills that even some of us awkward adults are still trying to figure out.
Importance of Social Skills
If you have a child with learning challenges, you may notice that they tend to act more immature than their peers, they struggle to respect personal boundaries, often blurt out answers, can act out in anger towards other children, and can’t always follow conversations in groups.
Many children with learning issues have trouble picking up on social cues. Studies observed that teens with solid social skills, particularly in the areas of conflict resolution, cooperation and emotional intelligence, are more likely to develop friendships, have a good relationship with peers, enjoy a strong relationship with parents and perform better academically. Teaching kids to get along with others, helping them to actively participate in learning, and encouraging them to care about themselves are three of the most important outcomes of the educational process.
Sometimes, children with learning disabilities, mental illness and other issues can delay or prevent growth of social skills. As a consequence, children with learning disabilities can feel socially left out, alone and academically unmotivated. There is a significant amount of research showing a positive association between pro-social behaviors and academic skills. That being said, more research is needed to fill in the gaps of whether promoting pro-social behaviors actually improves academic outcomes and skills.
10 Valuable Social Skills
A survey, conducted with more than 20 years of classroom research and responses from more than 8,000 teachers, showed results of 10 top social skills every student needs to succeed. In the survey, each skill was addressed from the perspective of helping children with learning disabilities. As your child develops their social skills, we can use this guide to help them develop emotional competence and maturity in each specific scope.
Listen to others
This social skill precedes all others. It is a major social step towards acknowledging other people, which is key to social intelligence. Teach your child to face the person who is talking and to look into their eyes so both parties feel connected to the conversation.
Follow the steps
There will be many instructions given during your child’s elementary years. Help your child follow instructions given by the teacher and other adults by practicing the following:
- Say okay
- Do what you’ve been asked to immediately
- Check back in with the person who gave the instructions
Taking turns is a social skill we typically learn when we are small children. Sometimes it’s rough. In elementary, it is crucial that kids take turns playing games and answering questions. Set up a structural building activity, like building a fort out of boxes or blocks, and give each person a turn placing a block in order.
When a child doesn’t follow the rules, peers may think that the child is self-centered or too important to follow the rules. This tends to push other kids away because they may find this attitude annoying. Role-playing games at home are a great way to go over some important school rules that the child may overlook or not understand.
This is a valuable skill to own. Helping children with a learning challenge ignore distractions and background noise can be very daunting. Many problems arise that make it difficult for the child to focus and filter out background noise, such as a sensory processing issue, ADHD, or an auditory processing disorder. It takes that much more energy for the brain to block out extraneous sensory information, which decreases the focus energy. Help teach your child to remember three choices when dealing with noise distraction, teasing or other people’s inappropriate behavior. The three choices are to look away, turn away, or walk away from the distraction.
Ask for help
Asking for help from others can be difficult for children and adults. Start instilling confidence by allowing (and responding) when your child asks for help. After they have mastered this skill, help them build confidence to ask for help when you are not around. Remind them to ask the person if they have time to help and then explain what is needed. The last step is to have your child say thank you when the person is done assisting them.
Getting along with others
Cooperating with others is a lifelong skill and having the ability to compromise is a big key to social development. Apologizing to someone if necessary is another “get along” skill that is appreciated. Teach the ability to compromise and apologize daily by example. Remember to say sorry to your child, even for a small error. This will have a large impact on their future behavior with others.
Staying calm with those around them
Friends, peers and even teachers will sometimes do something to upset a child. Helping your child stay calm in an emotional situation will end much better then if they were to lose control. Help your child take a deep breath and count to five before responding to the person who has made them upset. Next, teach them to THINK. Think about their choices. Finally, help them choose the best choice and act on it in a calm manner.
Be personally responsible for behavior
If you ask my children, this is my mantra. I probably say “personal responsibility’” at least a dozen times a day. Understanding personal responsibility can set your child up for a successful life. Any type of behavior reward system at home pushes kids to accept responsibility for their own behavior and any actions they take. In addition, when your child can visually see results from good behavior (for example, money, tokens, stickers, earning a toy or activity, etc.), it can lead to good decisions in the future, even without a reward. However, children with learning challenges don’t always respond well to a rewards system. It may take other methods and teaching examples to encourage good behavior.
Do nice things for others
It’s always best to follow the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Helping your child understand that he or she will be happier if they do something nice for someone else is the best recipe for social awareness and acceptance. Whether it be helping a peer with a large stack of books or papers, holding the door open for someone, or sharing a treat, many of these nice gestures will open doors socially and will secure emotional growth for a child with learning disabilities.
It’s important to remember not all of these social skills are equally developed with every child, especially those with learning challenges. Parents, teachers and friends must try to be patient and experiment with different methods and ideas to see what works best for the child. Children with learning challenges may have behavioral issues that are out of their control, especially if they consistently deal with external stimuli (loud noises, bright light, clothing textures, retained primitive reflexes, etc.) that prevent the brain and body from staying calm. Intervention for those types of reactions may be needed first, before social skills can properly develop.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs