Play Skills Groups and Social Skills Groups are really an art to create. There needs to be careful planning & matching of peers, inclusion of peer mentors, and a fun and creative atmosphere.
There also should be adherence to using research-based techniques and interventions. One helpful and efficient technique that parents can also employ at home is called a Teaching Interaction. Teaching Interactions (or TI’s) were developed in 1974 by Minikin & colleagues, as a Teaching Family Model. Since then, thanks greatly to the work at Autism Partnership in Seal Beach, TI’s are commonly used for breaking down and teaching a social skill to children in play groups, ABA treatment and counseling settings.
This technique is so powerful, simple and easy to implement, that all parents can easily implement it into their toolbelt of skills and become their child’s own personal “social coach.” Once you have the steps down, your child will like how systematic it is, how predictable it is, and how it can be a lot of fun!
There are 6 steps that need to be taught in order for a Teaching Interaction:
1). Label & Identify the Skill to learn
Dr. Dan Siegel often advises, “you have to name it to tame it.” So, for our children to understand exactly what we are talking about and know what we are looking for in them, we need to operationalize the skill and give it an age-appropriate, short NAME. This way we are clearly on the same page about what is expected, without adding confusion or judgment.
For example, instead of saying to your child, “we need to practice how you overreact or run away every time your peer annoys you, and you are making it much worse by totally ignoring it or blowing your top in front of everyone!”
Say this instead, “we are going to practice BRAVE TALK.”
2.) Provide a Rationale about the skill
Here you always want to include your child’s rationale for “buy-in” and motivation. You can ask “Why is this skill important?” or “What do you think that means?”
Write out all the rationale reasons your child gives you on large piece of paper or a white board. Then summarize them and add your own rationale to the bottom. We want to encourage the child to find their own motivation to work on a challenging social skill; not merely accept an adult’s reason in a Top-Down power structure, such as “It’s important because I say so” or “I know the right way to do this because I am older than you.” These types of reasons will surely shut down a child from learning and embracing an important new skill. And we want their minds open and ready to learn something new, as well as keep their buy-in throughout the process.
3). Adult models the skill through Description and Demonstration including “what to do” and “what not to do”
In this important step, Role-Play (act out) or create Drawings with Talk Bubbles to show your child visually what the skill should look like, appropriately. In addition, the adult should be the only one to provide a non-example or “what NOT to do.” Even though it might be fun for your child, it is not advised to have your child practice “what NOT to do” because we don’t want this non-example to inadvertently become part of their social skill repertoire.
The parent can act this out with another adult or mentor child/teen, what we call in our social skills groups “an advanced player.”
It is important to keep this step playful, fun and embedded with humor! It is also fun to use props such as Movie Clipboards or Megaphones, Video-Modeling, Puppets and more! We like to say the phrase “Ready, Set, Action” before we do the Role-Play and then “Cut!” when we are done.
4). Child Practices the skill through their own Role-Play or what is called a “Behavior Rehearsal”
Here the child can practice the role-play steps with another child (like in our groups), a friend or sibling, puppet, or with the parent!
It is nice to teach your child a fun way to discriminate what they are seeing and doing as appropriate vs. inappropriate. They should rate each role-play or drawing throughout the TI process.
In our groups, we like to use a non-verbal gesture of Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down. It is always interesting when your child rates something as Thumb sideways as this gives you both a great moment to explore their thinking process together. For verbal responses, we like to use the following rating phrases, “cool” vs. “not cool” or “new” vs. “old” or “helpful” vs. “not helpful.” Stay away from labels that add criticism and judgment on the person instead of the skill such as “good/bad” or “right/wrong.”
5). Have children practice on their own and provide them with Feedback
Continue to have the child or children practice until everyone gets a turn and provide positive feedback with some minor corrections. We don’t want to shut down our child, but we do need to give them gentle feedback and corrections in safe setting, before they generalize that skill to the natural setting with peers. For example, “I like the comeback you gave to your brother when we practiced that was short and not offensive, way to go! Remember don’t forget to walk away as fast as possible so you don’t keep the argument going.”
6). External Consequences may be given, Optional
In this last step, you can get creative and survey your child for what kind of reinforcement they might like paired with this fun Teaching Interaction! Always start with Specific Verbal Praise such as “I love the way you tried something new” or “Wow I can really see you got this Brave talk down!” If you need some additional motivation, you can pair with small tangibles, special time with you or friends, or marbles/pom pom’s in jar working towards an activity that is “socially fun” with others!
In the end, remember Social Skills need to be taught! Especially for our children that don’t do as well naturally learning and imitating by observing others. If we don’t teach them, these skills are at risk of skipping a generation, which can lead to many problems of poor interaction, inclusion and empathy in our community as our children get older.
Try this simple, effective, fun and research-based intervention of Teaching Interactions (TI’s) out with your family! And we hope over time you can add your own natural family style and culture, and make it your own!
To find out more about the many Social Skills Groups and Play Skills Groups for Children, Teens and Young Adults offered by Monica Fyfe and the many wonderful clinicians at OUR VILLAGE, a non-profit agency, please visit www.ourvillageslc.org for more information!