Children Tackle Anxiety, Shyness in Social Skills Groups

November 29, 2017

An interview with Rebecca Doyle, LCSW: 

Milestones – For Kids’ Success is already signing up children for its winter social skills groups getting underway in January. Is this eight-week series of one-hour sessions just what your child needs? Here’s what Milestones Lead Therapist Rebecca Doyle, LCSW, tells us you need to know.

In a nutshell, what is a social skills group?

It’s a group that meets in a low child-to-therapist ratio (3 to 1 for preschool/kindergarten; 4 to 1 for elementary grades) to focus on improving pragmatic skills for interaction with same-age peers.

This is considered group therapy, and parents have the option of asking us to bill their insurance. Milestones staff working with our social skills groups include our occupational and speech therapists and clinical social workers.

What is a parent noticing that suggests their child might benefit from a social skills group?

That’s a great question. What a parent is sensing is their child’s anxiety when facing an activity the parent expected would be fun or interesting for them. Sometimes the parent attributes the child’s reactions to being really shy.

Or, the child may have trouble sustaining attention in an experience or task. There is often difficulty in general with whole-body listening, staying tuned in to something going on in their preschool or elementary classroom, for instance.

Any child with unique sensory, speech, social-emotional or physical needs might experience a disconnect in social skills development.

What’s going on with the child you’ve just described?

There’s a brain mechanism that has to function and maybe it isn’t doing that very well. Something in the back of the head, let’s call it a switch, needs to be turned off so a switch at the front can be turned on. The brain at the back is focused on physical reactions, survival. The brain at the front is focused on helping the child learn, adapt and adjust themselves to a new environment. What’s in between functions like a muscle, helping one thing stop and another start. As with any muscle, it needs training and practice.

Children learn to manage social situations when they see it modeled or receive explicit instruction. Some need extra help to process that. The longer they go without recognizing or understanding social cues, the more their social anxiety builds. A social skills group gives the child and the parent more attention in this area and fills in any gaps.

What does typical time together in a Milestones’ social skills group look like?

Sessions are one hour, and we begin with a physical action to get children engaged. There’s also a hello ritual every time that involves eye contact and practicing use of specific words. Games and activities focus on body awareness, following directions, active listening, and learning common language for what the child is experiencing.

And what are parents seeing as a result?

One Mom told me she started noticing her son being more at ease outside his home, less resistant and upset when they were going out. She saw him being more confident in saying hello to others. In this instance, her son was able to find a common interest with someone, start having repeat conversations about it with the person and feel more connected to the outside activity because of it.

Every child’s experience is different, of course, but what we want to see is an increase in confidence and a decrease in anxiety, with overall better mastery of social skills.

Is this only for families already using therapy services at Milestones?

Not at all. More pediatricians are recommending social skills groups and parents are definitely looking for this. No child with cognitive ability to connect and understand is outside the scope of participation in a social skills group. If a child is not yet known at Milestones, we have a brief meeting to see how they handle relational activity before registering and placing them in a group.

One round of eight sessions is an introduction and gets momentum going with things for the child to work on with the parent at home. Children who participate in subsequent groups have the added benefit of practicing with different peers in each round; each group provides new situations.

How can parents learn more?

Parents should contact us now to talk about their interest in a social skills group. Our younger group starting in January is already half full.

Please download Milestones’ most recent flyers (below) to get the details on winter groups. Ages are approximate, and slightly younger or older children may appropriately be included under certain circumstances. Milestones offers social skills groups in winter, spring, summer and fall at their holistic therapy center in Downers Grove, Illinois.

Download these flyers on social skills groups coming up in January:

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