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Developing Social skills in young children

Saying “Hi” or “bye” or just  sharing feelings does not come easily for all children. Many kids today exhibits social or pragmatic language delays. Some have even been diagnosed with conditions such as Autism and Turret’s syndrome. There are several things parents or caregivers can do at home to begin helping children develop social language and communication skills.

One might ask – What skills do children need to know? Some important ones are greetings (saying “hi” or “bye”), sharing feelings and understanding  those of others, turn-taking, using appropriate eye contact and maintaining focus. Now here are a few activities that are useful in establishing and developing these skills.

1. Hoop Play. Play is the vehicle by which all children learn and develop.  This activity is good for building eye contact,  turn-taking and maintaining focused attention. Here the adult and child take turns shooting the ball into a hoop. It is important to use language like “it’s your turn” and “great job”. This language is reinforcing and serve as verbal cues. The activity naturally creates sustained eye contact and  focused participation.  Always reward the child with social praise (i.e.”good shot”) throughout. This game once learned and enjoyed can be used by the child later to invite others to play and develop his confidence – as he has something he can show others how to do.

2. Board Games.  Use a simple game like Over-sized Tic-Tac-Toe. This activity is good for building eye-contact, turn-taking and maintaining focused attention. The initial goal would be just to have the child first choose a letter – “X”  or “O” to take turns placing on the board.  Later the child can be encouraged to have all their X’s ‘ lined up’ or in a row. When  he does the adult can exclaim “you win”. This activity again naturally creates sustained eye contact and focused participation. Once this simple game is learned the child is able to use it at any time to engage not only peers but perhaps even older siblings and adults.

3. Story Time. Use an easy to read, picture book.  This activity is good for building shared attention, turn-taking, practicing social routines – like greetings, sharing and understanding feelings. During this activity the adult would resist reading word for word. Instead the adult can describe what’s pictured on the page using simple language which label, describe actions and suggest what characters are feeling or thinking. The story can and should be read repeatedly. This creates the opportunity for the child when asked to describe perceived emotions or feelings; take turns telling portions of the story and telling what characters are saying when they first meet – for example. Story time is useful because it helps to build school readiness skills like interacting with books, identifying letters and their sound counterparts, understanding spoken words can be also be written etc. It also sets the child on a path of independence – because he learns he can eventually use texts as a means to entertain him or herself and  learn about things he might be interested in.

4. Tablet. Tablets and the I-pads allow the use of apps that can be used to teach some subtle aspects of communication.  One useful apps is “Talking Tom Cat”. This app is available both on the I-pad and android tablets. On this application it is possible to have kids observe facial changes and other body language which tell how the cat is feeling or is trying to communicate. Once a child has learned to detect subtle meanings in body language he or she can use this knowledge to improve their interaction with others and develop more successful relationships.

In conclusion I would say that there is real benefit in engaging our children in activities that build social skills. These activities when carefully chosen and used well can help children correct development challenges and steer them on a course where they create positive and meaningful relationships  while  achieving  their fullest potential.

Can you think of other activities that help develop social skills in young children? Please post comments:

How to help your child fit in – this school year!

by John E. Peats M.S., CCC-SLP

More and more children are having significant difficulties fitting in at school.  Children have difficulty for a variety of reasons – ranging from things they can do something about (i.e. social skills)  to things beyond their control (i.e. family’s socioeconomic status). When a child perceives he is not liked, is ridiculed or feel he does not belong he or she is unlikely to know how to cope or correct the situation.  Children having difficulty at school may not willingly share their troubles with their parents – as they may feel “they’re being a baby” or that what was said about them is true. It is critical that parents and caregivers observe, interact and find ways to help their kids fit into the increasingly challenging school environment. Here are 5 things parents or  caregivers can do to help their kids fit in.

1. Esteem building – Make a list of your child’s strengths and find ways to  encourage and have him or her focus on those strengths daily. For example if your child likes a soccer, buy him or her kid focused magazines that highlight the lives of soccer and other sport stars. Allow him to practice his kicks outside for 30 minutes  after school. Tell him or her how great they’re doing.

2. Social Skills – Model skills that build relationships – like not talking about self excessively, turn-taking in a conversation,  maintaining good eye contact, limiting touching,  being sensitive to other people’s feelings by reading body language.

3. Communication – Set a regular scheduled time every day  where you visit with the child and discuss anything they feel like talking about. Parent can begin by asking – “How was your day?  ” Is there anything you need?” Try not to do this within 2 hours of  a child being upset.- for whatever reason, as this might prove counterproductive. Be persistent and do not  feel put off, if at first the child is resistant. Be gentle yet persistent.

4. Community –  Try to create an extended social network. Join a church.  Join the local YMCA or YWCA. Befriend a family with kids that are the same age as your child. Creating an extended social network provide a controlled  and positive environment in which your child can build beneficial, lasting relationships. These relationships can help your child practice and develop social skills. It can also act as a  buffer in helping your child’s feel less isolated when faced with difficulty making new friends.

5. Play – Find the time daily to laugh with your child – during a sitcom or playing a board game, or having a pizza party. Just do something fun.


Autism – Some early signs

by John E. Peats M.S., CCC-SLP

Autistic Spectrum disorder is a condition where children are born with a range of debilitating limitations in ability to understand and use verbal language to communicate. It is a condition that is being diagnosed increasingly in american society today. Here are some statistics. One in 68 US children today has been diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Austic Spectrum disorder is more commonly found in boys (1 in 42) than girls (1 in 89). Almost half of children with ASD has average or above average I.Q – a measure of intelligence. These statistics tell us ASD is commonly seen and is affecting boys more than girls. We can also see that children with ASD have the potential to learn and function as peers with time and intervention. In this article several behaviors or signs are presented that can be used to help parents begin early in getting children with ASD the help they need. Here are some early signs of Autistic Spectrum disorder:

1. A child exhibits very limited social interaction such as fleeting or very brief eye contact and no smiling when engaging others.

2. A child exhibit unusual behaviors like flapping of hands or constantly pushing their body against another person.

3. A child grabs or guides your hand to get something. An example could be taking your hand and guiding you to the refrigerator to get juice.

4. A child does NOT use gestures like pointing to communicate something they’re interested in.

5. A child seldom seem to understand what is said to him or her.

6. A child show little or no interest in toys or playing with others.

7. A child says very limited sounds or words but may make unusual sounds like grunts and squeals.

8. Child engages in repetitive motions and become very upset when made to stop or alter activity

In summary, it is clear that Autistic Spectrum disorder is a growing concern in the United States today. It is imperative as parents and caregivers that we identify early on whether or not this disorder manifests in our children. Early treatment has been shown to make a world of difference in helping these children acclimate and function normally or as normal as possible in today’s society.

The power of play: Can a balloon help my child to talk?

IMG_0065[1] by John Peats M.S., CCC-SLP
Play is the means whereby children learn how human beings engage each other, express their needs or desires and establish connections that benefit both communicators on every level – socially, emotionally and physically. Balloons are a great play tool. What can they be used to do? Balloons offer many benefits. They are inexpensive, safe, easy to manipulate, soft, colorful, dynamic toys. One might say how can play with a balloon help my child talk.

First balloons are small and easy to place in the child’s visual field. From as early as 2 weeks most of a child’s learning occurs in an area 2-3 feet from their face.

Second balloons can be used to teach an important cognitive skill – that is believed to be highly co-related to acquiring language – Joint attention. Here the child learns how to attend to an item together along with another person. Attending to something physical or nonliteral is the basis for most, if not all communication.

Third balloons can be use to teach imitation. Balloons provide great visual interest and can be used to teach actions like ‘blow’, ‘touch’, ‘hug’,’kiss’, ‘catch’ etc.

Fourth Balloons can be used to encourage the skill of turn-taking. Here a parent can either use hands or 2 paddles to move the balloon back and forth between each individual.

Fifth Balloons can be used to teach specific language skills. For example by blowing the balloon to varying sizes one could teach concepts like – Big/Bigger/Biggest. They can also be used to teach colors or locations (up/down) etc.

Finally. While balloons are great for a number of reasons it is important to follow at least 2 safety guidelines. An adult should have control of the balloon at all times – particularly when uninflated – as this can pose a choking hazard for the child. Lastly balloons should not be fully or overinflated as the sudden pop of an overextended balloon can be distressing and counterproductive.

Ten practices to develop language and communication in children who are late talkers.

by John Peats M.S., CCC-SLP

There are several reasons why children may not be communicating as a parent might expect. While some kids just have a timetable of their own, others truly are having a difficult time figuring out why there’s a need to engage others, how to go about connecting to others and whether there are any benefits to making social connections. Whatever the situation – there are some general things that can be done to help children who are late talkers develop critical language and communication skills. Here are ten things a parent or care giver can do.

1. A parent’s first goal is to be the child’s play partner. Let him or her take the lead during play. The child should select the toys that interest them most and be allowed to interact with the toys in a way that’s most comfortable for them.

2. Engage your child in a fun way. The parent should move in an enthusiastic manner, using good energy with lots of smiles and relaxed movements.

3. Engage in turn-taking behavior. This is a very important skill and is essential for all communication. Use the words “it’s your turn” often when engaging the child.

4. Be  Visual. Use striking, colorful materials and emphasized actions in a fun way.

5. Model! Model! Model ….. behaviors and words or phrase you want your child to learn.

6. Teach words or phrases that are important for your child in expressing basic needs (i.e. “juice”,”want more”, “food”, “no” etc.).

7. Use simple language when talking with your child. Always speak slowly with frequent pauses. Start with 2 word phrases like “want toy?”

8. Go slowly and use target words or phrases often and in naturally occurring situations. For example you would use the phrase: “want juice” during family breakfast, at snack time or after a rigorous play session.

9. Perform all desired words directly in the child’s visual field. A toddler’s field of focus and learning is within the first 2-3 feet of their face.

10. Set aside time to read to your child daily. Reading is visually appealing. It initiates and promotes shared focus – a building block to successful communication and language development.

copyright 2016