Social skills instruction becomes a daily ritual in my life. I attempt to teach my son how to interact with his brother, with us, and with the world around him. In addition, also teach a small group of middle school children social skills three days a week in one class and I try to squeeze in two days a week of social skills in another class strategically. The other group has a mixed bag of children learning several different skills as opposed to my one group that whose purpose is to chiefly learn social skills, so the task is much easier in one as opposed to the other, but I somehow it works out minutes-wise here and there. My lesson yesterday? Refocusing Your Attitude from 101 Ways to Teach Social Skills from Social Skills Central. When I’m teaching social skills, not all of the lessons hit home with them, but this one did.
The children I instruct do not all fall on the spectrum. In fact, I serve a range of children that go from intellectually disabled to just “other health impaired” (meaning they just have a medical diagnosis like ADHD. Some of my children have social skills lacking simply because they never learned how to socialize appropriately. That area of their lives just never fully developed because of some sort of developmental delay or because they have an emotional problem that prevents them from connecting fully with others. I attempt to teach a wide range of skills so that everyone will benefit. Some lessons get really interactive. This particular lesson was more discussion-based, but it got their attention because of the relevance to their lives.
I started by asking them a simple question. “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 equaling no problems and 10 equaling many problems, where do you rate yourself?”
Instead of having them call themselves out, I asked the “ones” to raise their hands, then the “twos,” and so on. I didn’t have any “ones” in the group. I didn’t have any “twos” either. I made it all the way up to “four” before I got a hand up. That made feel a bit sad for them. Most of them rated themselves a “five” or higher. No problem, though! I followed up by telling them:
There are people who feel that they have a lot of problems and people who feel that they don’t have many serious problems at all. How people see themselves depends a lot on their attitude. Of course, some people really do have serious problems, like health issues, or family problems, or learning problems. But even with serious problems, a positive attitude makes finding a solution much easier. Everyone can learn to have a more positive, solution-focused attitude about their problems. It helps if you don’t feel sorry for yourself and you don’t blame others.
Tough words for a middle school kid to hear!
I read the example to my group.
Complaint: “Cleaning up my room is a pain. I’d much rather be out playing.”
Positive statement: “I can get my room cleaned quickly. Maybe I’ll even find the book I lost!”
I asked them if any of them had ever heard their parents tell them that complaining about cleaning their rooms didn’t get it cleaned any faster. They all agreed they’d heard that before. I told them the goal now was to turn those complaints into positive, productive statements.
First we went over the sample complaints from the lesson. The students came up with some good, solid positive statements to combat them. They had the most difficult with social complaints like “no one ever invites me over” than physical complaints like “I hate my hair.” I suggested they come up with solutions to problems rather than complain about problems. If they feel like no one invites them over, perhaps they could invite someone over instead of waiting for an invitation. There’s no way to know that the lack of invitation stems from people not liking them unless they invite someone over. It’s unlikely that someone would say no to an invitation, though. I told them that if their parents would allow it, they should do the inviting. Besides, what better way to get to know a friend than to have them over?
After that, I allowed them to make up their own complaints that we could turn into positive statements. They lost the meaning of that and instead of making up complaints, they gave me real ones. The overarching them with the group? That life, in general, just sucks. I think that’s just middle school, though, right? I mean, many of my students have big issues in their lives, but the middle school drama compounds it and makes it that much larger. I told them they would just need to make that extra effort to focus on the positive and asked them write down three positive things that happened each day and turn it in to me. They looked doubtful that they could come up with three per day, but I feel good about the idea of them refocusing their energy on the positive daily.
I mean, who doesn’t need to do that?