Parents are often asking for advice and ‘what should I do when……’ questions about their child and situations that involve them getting on with other kids, or talking to, interacting with them.  These are ‘Social Skills’

The What and Why

Your child needs to be able to manage in a wide range of situations with other kids and adults – for example they need to be able to have a conversation, ask to join in games, invite other children to play.  They need to be able to ask adults questions, take a turn in a game, give a compliment, offer a toy or stand up for themselves if they are unfairly treated.  As you can see all these are important parts of life and these are ‘Social Skills’.  If your child is to make friends and fit into a group with others kids they need to be able to do all these and more.

Some children find all these easier to do than others.  Other children really struggle with all or some of these.  It is important to keep in mind that they are a ‘skill’ so this means they can be taught and learnt.  And the good news is with practice it becomes easier and easier.  Just like any other skill, think learning to ride a bike.

Below is a Social Skills Hierarchy – a list of social skills beginning with the easiest and finishing with the hardest.  You need to build a childs social skills – think of building blocks, start with a strong foundation



Watch and listen to your child over about a week and think about this checklist.  They do not have to do it perfectly to tick it off, but try to ask yourself if for each one you think this is causing your child a problem with other kids or adults.  Compare your child to other kids of their age rather than yourself and your ‘adult’ social skills.

Which of these social skills do you see that needs a bit of work for your child?

Body Language

  • Eye Contact
  • Posture
  • Facial Expression

Voice Quality

  • Tone and pitch
  • Volume – too loud, too soft
  • Rate – too fast, too slow
  • Clarity – can’t understand

Conversation Skills

  • Greetings and Introductions
  • Starting conversations
  • Holding conversations
  • Answering questions
  • Asking questions
  • Taking turn
  • Choosing topics of conversation
  • Using polite conversation

Friendship Skills

  • Offering help or items
  • Offering invitations
  • Asking to join in
  • Expressing Affection
  • Giving compliments
  • Showing caring when others are hurt or upset


  • Sticking up for one’s rights
  • Asking for help or information or expressing needs
  • Saying no
  • Dealing with teasing
  • Dealing with bullying

There are many different ways that you can teach social skills.  How you decide to teach really depends firstly on how difficult it is for your child.

If you have just ticked a few areas of difficulty then the best strategy is what is called ‘Incidential Teaching’.  That simply means just finding opportunities in everyday life to teach one of these skills.  So you are really doing anything difficult or training your child, just see it, point it out, explain ‘why’ we do this eg. Eye contact if your child looks at the floor a lot instead of at the child he is talking too, they explain what we do, look each other in the eye, why, makes us feel the person is interested and  – check your child understands this, then prompt your child next time the opportunity arises where they can practice.  Praise their effort – don’t just say ‘ you said hello well’ say EXACTLY what they did well, like       ‘ when your friend said hello to you I noticed you looked her in the eye and said hello back, you even used her name, that would have made her feel that you liked her’.  Or something along these lines.

Just keep it simple and only focus on one skill area at a time.  You don’t want it to become confusing for your child.

Just a reminder, start with the easier ones first and work your way down the list.

 Helping Children who need More….

Some kids need more…. If this is the case then you need to teach in a more structured and planned way.  For each skill you need to teach

  • Instruction and explanation
  • Practice and prompting of the skill
  • Feedback
  • Praise

Start with Body language skills then when they are good at these then move onto conversation skills.  Then gradually you need to put them all together to be really successful.

If you are finding this difficult or need some direction, or even a plan put together of what to tackle and what order, then a psychologist who specializes in working with children and parents is sure to be able to help you, as little or as much as you like.

If you would like an appointment with Nicole, then simply phone her office on 07 47242600 to make a time to suit.  Remember these can be face-to-face, skype or phone, whichever you prefer.


Nicole Pierotti

Written by Nicole Pierotti

© Copyright 2012. No reprinting or publishing without permission from writer. For permission or further information contact

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