Social Skills Groups

Overview

Developing social skills is an important part of the lives of young children. Children begin to socialize during infancy and continue to strengthen their skills during preschool years. During this time, social skills may consist of gaining joint attention, initiating and responding, playing and sharing with peers, communicating wants and EBIP_peer relations_social skills_7needs, and following classroom rules. Often children learn these skills by watching other children and adults, but some students may need more intensive interventions. Research suggests that children with disabilities often require these interventions to learn to interact appropriately with peers and adults. Appropriate development of social skills can lead to improved peer relationships, better problem-solving skills, and overall effective communication with others. Social skills interventions can be used to target a variety of essential skills such as requesting, initiating and responding to others, play, and communication among others. Many of these skills can be targeted through peer-mediated interventions (see Peer Training). In addition, children who need support to learn specific social skills can be taught with peers (who may or may not need similar supports) to engage in those behaviors. Remember that children (and adults!) only engage in behaviors that are reinforced; thus, social skills interventions should incorporate rewards that are meaningful to children.

We developed a specific variation of a social skills program designed to improve social behaviors for young children, the Secret Service Social Skills program. This program uses systematic instruction and reinforcement embedded in play activities to help teach children to use pro-social behavior and play skills. 

Secret Service Social Skills Program: Procedures

  1. Choosing the EBIP_communication_environmental arrangement_12Agent:

Select a peer who:

  • Is likely to engage in the behavior frequently after a brief instructional session.
  • Is compliant with teacher direction.
  • Is persistent, as peers may not reciprocate the behavior.
  • Displays competence in the targeted skill.
  • Is a peer to whom the target child will likely attend.
  1. Setting Up the Environment:
  • Select materials that are conducive to the social interaction (e.g., cooperative materials for activities that require sharing).
  • Have the materials set up and ready to go prior to beginning the session.
  • Have a token board and reinforcement selections available
  • Have the tokens and reinforcement stored in an area that is easily accessible in order to deliver to children easily
  • If working on a commenting skill, make sure materials allow children to create or access something that is easily identifiable so the agent can comment
  1. Short Pre-Teaching Session:
  • Explicitly name the skill and provide a verbal explanation and model of the skill.
  • Conduct a guided practice session for the agent (e.g., set up a mock situation for child to perform the skill, verbally prompt them through it, and have them repeat name of skill and show different ways to do it).
  1. EBIP_communication_environmental arrangement_9Implementing the Session:
  • Remind the group of the contingency (e.g., “Remember, you can get tokens for doing what the secret agent does! Don’t forget to spy on them!”)
  • You may need to prompt the agent’s first social interaction.
  • When delivering a token, explicitly identify the skill that is being reinforced and remind them of the token system (e.g., “You said something about your friend’s drawing, you get a token!”, “I think you found the secret skill, you get a token, too!”).

Secret Service Social Skills Program: Scripts for Peer Pre-Teaching Sessions

Compliments

“Hi NAME 1, today you are going to be our secret service agent! Here’s your secret agent badge. You can earn tokens for being a good secret agent. Your assignment for today is to give your friends compliments. That means you can say nice things about your friend. You can say ‘Good job, NAME 2!’ or ‘Way to go, NAME 2!’ or ‘You’re the best!, NAME 2.’ Can you think of a compliment you can give? — Awesome! If you forget what to do, you can look at this picture to help remind you. And remember, this is a secret assignment, so don’t tell NAME 2.”

SharingEBIP_peer relations_social skills_6

“Hi NAME 1, today you are going to be our secret service agent! Here’s your secret agent badge. You can earn tokens for being a good secret agent. Your assignment for today is to share with your friends. That means that you give things to your friend. You can share tokens, toys, blocks, books or anything you can think of! What kinds of things do you think you can share with your friends today? — That’s a great idea! If you forget what to do, you can look at this picture to remind you. And remember, this is a secret assignment, so don’t tell NAME 2.”

Requesting from Teachers

“Hi NAME 1, today you are going to be our secret service agent! Here’s your secret agent badge. You can earn tokens for being a good secret agent. Your assignment for today is to ask your teacher for help. If you don’t know the answer to something, you can say “Ms. NAME, can you help me?” You can also ask a teacher to play with you by saying “Ms. NAME, will you play block with me?” What things can you think of to ask your teachers? — That’s a great idea! If you forget what to do, you can look at this picture to remind you. And remember, this is a secret assignment, so don’t tell NAME 2.”

 CommentsEBIP_communication_environmental arrangement_4

“Hi NAME 1, today you are going to be our secret service agent! Here’s your secret agent badge. You can earn tokens for being a good secret agent. Your assignment for today is to make comments to your friend. That means you talk about what NAME 2 is doing, or what they’re playing with.. You can say, “Wow, you have a lot of tokens!” or “Your tower is so tall!” or “That looks like a boat.” Can you think of some other comments? — That’s a great idea! If you forget what to do, you can look at this picture to remind you. And remember, this is a secret assignment, so don’t tell NAME 2.”

Show and Tell 

“Hi NAME 1, today you are going to be our secret service agent! Here’s your secret agent  badge. You can earn tokens for being a good secret agent. Your assignment for today is to show and tell with your tokens, toys or anything else. That means you talk to NAME 2 about your stuff. You can say, “This token has a spiderman sticker!” or “Look at the airplane I made!” or “I have 10 tokens.” Can you think of some other things to show and tell? — That’s a great idea! If you forget what to do, you can look at this picture to remind you. And remember, this is a secret assignment, so don’t tell NAME 2.”

Asking Questions

“Hi NAME 1, today you are going to be our secret service agent! Here’s your secret agent badge. You can earn tokens for being a good secret agent. Your assignment for today is to ask lots of questions. You should ask questions to NAME 2 about their tokens, about what they’re playing with, or if they’d like to play with you. You could say “Hey, NAME 2, what is that?” or “Can I have that block?” or “Which one is your favorite?” Can you think of some other questions you could ask? — That’s a great idea! If you forget what to do, you can look at this picture to remind you. And remember, this is a secret assignment, so don’t tell NAME 2.”

EBIP_communication_environmental arrangement_2Offering Help

“Hi NAME 1, today you are going to be our secret service agent! Here’s your secret agent badge. You can earn tokens for being a good secret agent. Your assignment for today is to offer help to your friends. Sometimes a teacher may ask them a question that they don’t know the answer to and you could help! Or you could help them paint their picture or build with blocks. You should say “Can I help you?” If they say yes, you can give them the answer or play with them. Can you think of way you can help your friends? — That’s a great idea! If you forget what to do, you can look at this picture to remind you. And remember, this is a secret assignment, so don’t tell NAME 2.”

To cite this page (APA 6th edition):

  • Morales, V.A., Ledford, J.R., & Chazin, K.T. (2016). Social Skills Groups. In Evidence-based instructional practices for young children with autism and other disabilities. Retrieved from http://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/ebip/social-skills-groups