There are three stages to teach social skills to children. According to Susan Diamond, M.A., a speech-language pathologist, the stages are: determining the social skills that a child needs to develop, figuring out ways to teach the skills to the child, and reinforcing lessons to the child. To determine which skills each of the children need, the teachers at Choo Choo Train refer to the following stages of social development:
For children aged 2 to 3 years old, they should be able to seek attention from other people, initiate social contact with others both verbally like saying hi and bye and physically, look at a person who is talking, have the ability to take turns talking, and laugh at silly objects and events.
For children aged 3 to 4 years old, they should be able to take turns when playing games, treat a doll or stuffed animal as though it’s alive, and initiate verbal communication with actual words. Children learn best when they are having fun hence teachers use activities and games to teach and reinforce social skills.
To teach nonverbal skills: Teachers help children to recognize facial expressions and body language by watching a kid-friendly program on TV with the sound off and observe what characters are doing and what certain movements might mean. Teachers also look through books and identify different facial expressions, and talk with the children about what the people in the books might be saying.
To teach tone: To help children differentiate a range of tones, teachers demonstrate or use a recorder and record different emotions in their voice and ask children what they are before explaining how meaning changes with voice change. “I’m angry!” is said in a loud, empathic voice, and “I feel so sad” is said in a soft, low, dejected voice.
To teach personal space: Teachers tell children that it’s important for everyone to have some personal space to feel comfortable, and practice acceptable ways to interact with someone during playtime.
To teach social overtures: Teachers show children the proper way to start a conversation, get someone’s attention, or join a group of children who are already playing together. All these situations are discussed at the table during mealtime or during class activities.
To reinforce the lessons, teachers come up with games that require children to use what they have learned such as the classic Follow the Leader game which also teaches them about taking turns and practising patience. Teacher designates herself or a child as the leader, and everyone is expected to mimic the leader’s actions.
While the teachers at Choo Choo Train try their best to help children with social skills, according to Lawrence Balter, Ph.D., a child psychologist and parenting expert, some children may have problems with impulse control and self-regulation while some may have a problem with processing information. These can lead to children having awkward interactions with peers. If a child has prolonged difficulty to interact with friends, parents are advised to seek help from a paediatrician or a child therapist.