The Skills behind the Social Skills

The skills behind the social skills

By: Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC

Kids, Students, Back To School, Boy, Girl, Children

What skills are needed for “appropriate or proper social skills?”

Before we dive into this topic, did you know that we utilize social skills during everyday interactions?  Did you know these skills are learned and not inherited?  These skills start at birth and are learned by observing others.  The biggest influence of social skills for children are their parents and the other individuals in their daily life.  Once a child reaches school age their teachers and peers become an overwhelming influence on the development of social skills.

Parents are the building blocks of social skills for their children.  Children will observe their parents actions, emotions and responses to situations and then mimic them.

So think about the last time a situation occurred. Maybe you dropped a plate and it broke or maybe your were running late. How did you react? How did you respond? How were your emotions? Your children were watching you and learning from your actions and reactions.

Social skills are a lot like bricks and are built one at a time.  A great example of this occurs during the playing of a game. First a child has to learn not to yell and throw a tantrum when they lose before they can learn to congratulate the winner through good sportsmanship.

So, what exactly are social skills?

Social skills are the skills that are needed to interact and communicate with others daily. The foundational skills of social skills include play, self-regulation, planning, expressive and receptive language, attention, and concentration.

And, why are social skills important and what are the benefits?

Social skill groups can help kids develop and practice important life skills including how to establish and maintain positive relationships and conversations with peers and adults.

Many children that struggle with social skills are often poorly accepted or picked on by peers. This can lead to a high incidence of school suspensions/expulsions, delinquency, and dropping out.  Long term effects may include poor peer relationships and mental health difficulties in adulthood (Gresham, F). Having an understanding of social skills and the ability to execute skills during social situations can help prevent negative relationships and situations.

Check out this exert from Bullying and Cyberbullying: History, Statistics, Law, Prevention and Analysis by Richard Donegan. “Though many students tend to deny the emotional harm caused by bullying tactics such as name calling, rumor spreading, and teasing, research suggests the opposite. In a study that utilized a sample of over 3,000 students, researchers found that “38 percent of bully victims felt vengeful, 37 percent were angry and 24 percent felt helpless.” Furthermore, in a study conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center involving a sample size of 468 students revealed that females are typically more emotionally affected by cyberbullying than males. The females in the study reported being frustrated (39.6%), angry (36%), and sad (25.2%) more often than males who reported lower percentages in each category (27.5%, 24.3%, 17.9% respectively).” 

If you would like to read the full article it can be found at 

How do I know if my child has difficulties with social skills? 

Does your child…

  • Avoid eye contact or stares at individuals fixedly
  • Have difficulty taking turns in conversation
  • Struggle to use appropriate body language
  • Interrupt others frequently
  • Talk at you versing engaging in conversation
  • Start and end conversations abruptly
  • Talk with unusual speed, pinch, volume and tone of voice
  • Disclose too much information to unfamiliar people (including strangers)
  • Struggle to respond appropriately when asked to change their actions
  • Have difficulty listening to peers and adults
  • Have difficulty think before speaking
  • Have difficulty recognizing others feeling
  • Have difficulty reading other people’s feelings based on verbal and non-verbal communication 
  • Show little interest in what the other person has to say
  • Tend to talk about topics of their own interests
  • Have trouble responding to teasing
  • Lack imagination
  • Have negative communication and interaction with others
  • Difficulty following rules or directions
  • Appears self-centered
  • Lacks empathy towards others

Social skill classes can help children learn these skills.  At Occupational Therapy Family Services, LLC we work with children in groups or individually to focus on skills that are needed to participate in every day social interactions. Our groups are specially designed and led by two occupational therapists. These groups provide a safe and welcoming environment to practice social skills.


Gresham F.M. (1988) Social Skills. In: Witt J.C., Elliot S.N., Gresham F.M. (eds) Handbook of Behavior Therapy in Education. Springer, Boston, MA. Please click the following link for the full article.

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