Developing Social Skills Through Individual and Family Therapy

Many children and adolescents who present for mental health services experience difficulties in their peer relationships. They may encounter problems making and keeping friends, have trouble noticing social cues, or have a hard time expressing themselves. Both individual and family therapy can assist children and teens to gain skills for navigating their interpersonal environments. Therapists may help kids to develop their social skills via a number of methods:

By helping them recognize positive and negative social influences
Therapists may work with children to sketch drawings or diagrams that map out their social worlds, and identify how they feel about certain people or groups of people.

By developing plans with them to maximize positive social influences Therapists might make concrete plans with children about what they could do to improve their social environment, such as “call Steve”, “join the boy scouts” or “avoid Sarah”.

By helping them identify and manage their feelings about interpersonal events
Therapists can help kids identify their feelings about social situations, and also help them cope with these feelings. For example, a child may express that he or she feels hurt or angry that another child has teased him, and a therapist may help a child to express his feelings through words, art, or play.

By helping kids identify courses of action they might take in response to negative events
In the instance of teasing, a therapist might help a child to decide to limit contact or speak up to the bully, or if physically threatened, to go to a responsible adult for assistance.

By helping children develop general techniques for making friends, getting along with others, and getting their needs met
Therapists might use role-plays, drawings, fantasy play, or specially designed therapeutic board games to help children develop various social skills. The skills that therapists might help children to develop might include: making requests, registering complaints, asking for help, resisting peer pressure, making and accepting compliments, and entering a group of children who are already playing or talking together.

The addition of families in therapy can greatly enhance a child or teen’s development of his or her social skills. Kids can practice social skills in vivo with siblings and parents, and parents can reinforce the skills that they learn at home.

Individual and family therapy are of course not the only methods of helping children and teens with social skills deficits. Group therapy, particularly when it is focused specifically on the aquisition of social skills, can be very effective in helping children and teens learn how to make friends and get along with their peers. Speech and language therapy, mentoring programs, and even certain sports and recreational activities can all help kids develop themselves socially. Individual as well as family therapy can be a useful starting-off point as well as an adjunct to these activities, and can also address issues such as self-esteem or anger management that are related to the development of social skills.
–Posted by Jonah Green

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