What are social skills?

Socialising with other kids requires many skills, including talking and expressing thoughts and ideas, showing interest in others, sharing, taking turns, and listening and understanding what others say. Socialising also relies on non-verbal behaviours, like using and understanding gestures, reading facial expressions, and knowing how close to stand to someone, or whether it’s okay to touch someone.

Social rules or norms can be hard for some kids to understand and learn. They are not written down anywhere. For example, some kids might be unsure how to start a conversation with another person or how to have back and forth conversation with someone.

Who has challenges with social skills?

Many things impact our social skills and the way we interact with others. This includes personality traits (e.g., a shy and quiet child versus an outgoing and energetic child), mental health (e.g., feeling sad or low, compared with feeling happy and energised), our ability to regulate emotions (e.g., coping with stress or frustration), and our cognitive and communication skills (e.g., talking, using and understanding gestures, reading facial expressions, controlling our impulses). Kids with challenges in these areas can sometimes find social situations more difficult. The amount of challenge experienced may change depending on the activity or the group of people (e.g., larger or small groups, older kids or younger kids).

Some kids with developmental delays or difficulties can experience more challenges in social situations. For example, a child with autism spectrum disorder may be happy playing with one child, but may feel overwhelmed when two or more kids are involved. A child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may interrupt others, have trouble waiting their turn, call out, or can be highly active, which can make it harder for them to make and keep friends.

What might be some challenges on the footy field?

Kids might not know how to say hi and chat to others, make new friends, share items, and play in a group. The child may stand away from the group and appear to be alone. It may look like the child doesn’t want to talk or play with others when they might actually be avoiding it because they are feeling nervous or worried.

Quick tips

  • Model desired behaviour: Model social skills that are important at NAB AFL Auskick , like saying hello, listening, asking to join in, sharing items, and showing empathy.
  • Teach social skills: Teach children social skills by explaining exactly what you want them to do. Be specific. For example, ask them to say: ‘Hello’ when they see a child for the first time. Avoid instructions like saying ‘Be nice’ as this can be confusing.
  • Always have full participation: Avoid games where kids get eliminated. Have full participation at all times from all kids.
  • Joining in may take time: A child might not be able to join in with the group right away. They may need to join the group in their own time.
  • Pair children with buddies: Consider pairing a kid with a buddy to help them during activities. Older or more skilfull kids can mentor others.
  • Assign teams to prevent exclusion: Assign teams rather than allowing for peers to select their team members. This will reduce the chance of a child feeling excluded.
  • Use small groups: Some kids might need to work in smaller groups so they feel safe.
  • Match groups by skill level: Matching kids of the same skill level in small groups may help kids feel more at ease and confident that they fit in.
  • Use footy stories: A footy story might be needed to teach a kid a new football skill or to help them play with others.
  • Let parents or siblings help: Parents and siblings know their child best. Getting them to help might encourage the child to get more involved and feel safer to play.
  • Parents can help calm kids: Sometimes kids might become angry and upset with other children and the reason for this might not be clear. Giving them a break and getting their parents to help might assist them to calm down. Make sure a clear code of behaviour is known up front and provide it visually.

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