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“My child struggles to make friends” The role that parents play in supporting social skill development

Updated: Feb 4

“What can’t she just make friends?”

“It seems as soon as she gets close to a friend, they ditch her”

“He’s so social and wants to make friends but just cant seem to!”

“She just spends time in her room and doesn’t seem interested in making friends”

This is what we hear often when working with parents who has a child with social skill difficulties. I get asked a lot of questions, I hear a lot of confusion, a lot of worry and at times frustration from parents.. but most of all I hear parents who just want to help their child but don’t know how to.

If you have asked yourself those same questions and want to know how to support your child’s social skills? You’re in the right place!

Have you ever heard of the phrase, ‘The Gift of the Gab?’ or the phrase, ‘You’ve either got it or you don’t’?

Some would say that social skills are an art form, or an innate quality that you’re born with or not. Or the common misconception that some people are just 'good at small talk’.
Whilst it is true that personality types and characteristics have a role to play in whether a child is more introverted or extroverted in nature, it is not correct to state that social skills are hardwired or fixed.

In fact, research into social skills has found that social skills are a complex, cognitive process that has to be learnt and is variable in nature, dependant on culture, time and situation.
And like any skill- it can be learnt!

Think back to when you were a teenager, I’m sure there’s plenty of cringeworthy moments with peers you wished didn’t happen. But in the same way its cringeworthy and we sometimes replay those awkward moments over and over in our heads (especially at 2 am while we're trying to sleep..) its these experiences that pave the way for new learning. It's these moments which help us to improve our social skills; IF we have the social, emotional, and reflective ability to do so.

Much like teaching algebraic equations, social skills can be taught by breaking down seemingly complex and sophisticated talking skills into smaller, more manageable steps. Like algebra, teaching these ‘rules’ and steps helps us to be able to break apart a social situations and tackle it in a step by step way. Research states that children on the autism spectrum, for example, require social skills to be taught this way due to the way their brains are wired and the fact that social communication deficits are a hallmark symptom of autism spectrum disorder.

So, what does this have to do with parents? Why is it important for parents to support the social skills of their child?

As parents, you are the experts of your child. You have been with your child for 10, or 12, or 17 years. You have been with them through the good times, and the not so good times. You taught them to walk, talk and paved the way for the development of their values and morals, helping to shape their personalities and identities.

As therapists we have the expert knowledge and skills required to teach key social skills, however in order for your child to feel brave enough to practise the skills outside of therapy and generalise these skills into their everyday environment- parental support is crucial.
Your child may be with a therapist for 1 hour a week, but they are with you for 168 hours.

Extensive research into the area of parent assisted therapy is well documented and the involvement of parents in therapy significantly improves outcomes. In short, the greater the involvement of parents= the greater the outcomes!

Teaching parents to ‘speak the same language’ with their child is important in ensuring that your child learns these key skills in a scaffolded and supportive way.

For example, what do you do if your child always talks over people and likes to talk about their interests? What do you do if your child looks down when trying to initiate conversation? What do you do if your child interrupts others when trying to start a conversation? What do you do if your child is having trouble solving a disagreement with a friend? What advice do you give?

Through working alongside a speech pathologist and learning key techniques used in therapy, you’ll gain important skills and a greater understanding of the complexities of the skill we call social communication!
For more information and to enrol in our Parent group, The Friendship Project click here.

Click here for more information on social skills.

For more information regarding the research on parent assisted social skills click here.
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