How to help your child get better social skills

For many children with special needs, social skills are a struggle. They can come across as mean and anti-social at their worst and awkward at their best.

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Family nurture groups are good times for children and youth to learn and practice social and emotional skills. Practicing at home is best because it’s where we have the most control over the environment. We can do our best to create a safe place for our children. After all, felt safety and belonging are the foundation of being able to relate to others. The more positive social-emotional interactions a person gets, the more able they are to relate to others. Family nurture groups are safe places to bank more social-emotional interactions.

Family nurture groups are good times for children and youth to learn and practice social and emotional skills. Click To Tweet

Additionally, family nurture groups are a time to work on attachment. The skills of attachment are:

I can give care.
I can receive care.
I can get my needs met.
I am alright with me.
I am alright with “we.”

How to Start a Family Nurture Group

1. Choose a time. Be gentle with yourself. Start with once a month. Work up to weekly if you can. Choose a time when everyone is well-fed and hydrated before coming together. Kids from hard places do best with defined boundaries, so set a start and end time for your group.

2. Invite your family. Don’t make this a battleground. Go through the motions at each scheduled time even if no one shows up!

3. Set the rules. Try these simple ones–Stick together; No hurts (physical or emotional); Have fun!

4. Do an activity or two. Again, don’t create a battleground. Sharing power by letting your kids opt in and out is important. Think about activities in terms of energizing or calming. Choose activities based on which way you want to move your family’s energy level. See below for a list of suggested activities.

Suggested activities for nurture groups:

Trust Fall. Have children stand up straight and fall backward into the arms of an adult. These roles can be reversed if the adult starts from sitting.

“Ha” Game. Create a human chain. One person lies down. The next person lays down perpendicularly to the first person with his head on the first person’s tummy. Repeat until everyone is included. The first person says, “Ha!” The second person says, “Ha! Ha!” and so forth. See if you can get through the entire chain without everyone busting out into laughter.

Human Knot. This activity is better for older kids since size is an issue. Everyone stands in a circle and extends their hands toward the center. Each person grabs two different hands, creating a large knot. The goal is to unknot into a circle without anyone letting go.

Listen and Obey games. Red Light/Green Light. Simon Says. Mother May I? Mr. Fox.

Breathing Activities. Play air hockey with cotton balls and straws. Blow the cotton ball back and forth. See who can blow bubbles into a cup of water with a straw for the longest. Extended exhales are important for regulation.

Reading Books.

Play with Feelings Cards.

Role Play. One of our favorites is reversing the parent-child roles.

Massages with Essential Oils or Lotion. If your child won’t tolerate touch, encourage self-massage.

Feeding activities. Start with something fun like trying to toss popcorn into each other’s mouths. WARNING: This is a totally a choking hazard!

Band-Aids®. Take turns asking each other if there’s a hurt that needs a Band-Aid®. Band-Aids®for hurt feelings can go over the heart.

Board and Card Games. Click here for a list of suggestions.

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