social skills

Student Contributor Book Review: Jarvis Clutch – Social Spy

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Jarvis Clutch graphic

The following book review was written by a student contributor, aged 13. The review is published as submitted to preserve the perspective and ability of the contributor.

This book is written by Dr. Mel Levine, a pediatrician and author and Jarvis Clutch, a middle school student. Jarvis is a kid who documents and analyzes social behaviors of other students around his middle school with Dr. Levine, for a period of time. He documents behaviors such as: social categories, peer pressure, social cognition, and fitting in.

Social Categories
There are 5 social categories in every school. The 5 categories are…
1. Popular – Respected by large amounts of students and have good reputations.
2. Fairly Likable – Generally well liked, mostly nice, not everyone knows them.
3. Controversial – Popular with some students, unpopular with others, usually part of a group of kids not accepted by other groups.
4. Mostly Hidden – Nobody knows them well at all, they seem to be invisible a majority of the time.
5. Rejected – Usually feel miserable, They are often excluded from other activities with peers.
Fitting In
In order to change your social category or fit into a certain category, you need to get along with other students. Fitting in with other students consists of talking right, acting right, and seeming right.

Seeming Right includes looking right and acting right. Your appearance can play a big roll in your social status. How you move your body can make a big social difference. You could be too close or too far from a person. Some people don’t like their peers being hyperactive. Seeming cool affects your social image. How might you seem cool to people? Looking as if something doesn’t bother you, walking and talking smoothly, you’re accepted by at least one group. All of the preceding were things that people interpret as cool.

Talking Right is another part of fitting in, it can shape the way people see you. Your tone can change the meaning of the things you say. Along with the tone is word choice. Someone who uses positive, kind words has a better chance of being accepted, rather than someone who uses mean, insulting words. People who can regulate their tone and use appropriate language are usually good at carrying out conversations. Skilled conversations require you to listen, wait, and then respond to whatever the person may have said. Conversation is a good skill to have because you will utilize it very often.

Acting Right, is a critical part of your social cognition, the most important part in my opinion. Many of your peers will judge you by your actions. It is also a way of being socially accepted.

Avoiding aggression is very important to your image. Peers can be aggressive because: they may be too competitive, they may be insensitive to others feelings, or they could have a bad aggressive habit.

Social reacting is the way someone addresses or reacts to a problem. For example, Ben had his pencil broken by Jim, an older student. Ben could respond by: A. Telling a teacher, B. Throwing a temper tantrum, or C. Asking the Jim for another pencil. Two of these three options would be socially acceptable because the right things to do would be to either tell a teacher or ask the student for one of their pencils. Throwing a temper tantrum over a small matter would be disruptive to the other student’s learning.

After a conflict has occurred, conflict repair should come into play. Conflict repair is when the parties involved in the incident figure out how to make things right with each other. Conflict repair for the situation with Ben and Jim would include Jim apologizing to Ben and offering to replace his broken pencil.

Collaboration powers and holds any group project together. No matter what kind of project or job your group needs to complete, collaboration will always dictate whether or not the project gets done well. The key to collaborating with peers is agreement. When everyone can agree with each other the project will move forward much smoother.

Competitive behaviors are very common in schools. Everyone is trying to be better than everyone else in some area or subject. There is nothing wrong about being competitive but the main issue with this behavior is the way it can break friendships apart and become unhealthy. Some people become so competitive with each other they are willing to go to extremes (unhealthy decisions) just to win. These competitions put strain on relationships causing them to fall apart and sometimes become “rival”.

Being the best person you can be socially can be tough. Self monitoring can help you help yourself. Self monitoring is watching how you speak and act so you can improve your behaviors later. By doing so you will get better at socializing. To understand how you can self monitor, it is better to talk to a counselor, therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist about what you think you are struggling with and they can tell you what you should look out for when you are interacting with the community.
I thought this book had a lot of information in it that made sense to me. It was well written and I was able to learn about different social categories that I never knew existed. I never really focus on social groups when I’m at school because I wasn’t that interested in who was in them or what they did. This book has helped me understand some previous challenges that I’ve had with peers at other schools. It also helped me understand why people have reacted to my behaviors in the past.


The Thinking Behind Social Thinking

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by Veronica McKibbin, Child & Family Counselor, LIH Olivia's Place Shanghai

by Veronica McKibbin, Child & Family Counselor, LIH Olivia’s Place Shanghai

Jamie, now 8 years old, has moved to Shanghai with his parents and younger siblings. Jamie was diagnosed at age 3, with what was then known as Asperger Syndrome (now grouped into the DSM-V’s broader category of Autism Spectrum Disorder) by a team of specialists in his home country. Jamie is a sensitive and often funny young boy, who has, over time, had many special interests. Upon arriving in Shanghai he developed an enthusiasm for architecture, in particular tall buildings. Jamie has strong expressive verbal language skills and cognitive development. However, he also shows marked weakness in his social communicative learning. He can talk at length about the height and facts about famous landmarks, however pays little attention to if the ‘listener’ is engaged or even participating in the conversation. He also finds some academic areas difficult, particularly written expression where he is required to interpret information about what people are thinking or feeling. Organizational skills are especially challenging for him. He also found the social emotional demands of moving to a new school and city overly taxing on a system already stretched to capacity, and his family noticed he was now having frequent and intense emotional outbursts. One of the recommendations for Jamie from his class teacher was that he attends a “social skills” group.


Teachers, parents, doctors, or therapists refer children to a “social skills” group for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the child is perceived as shy or anxious around their peers; they may feel the child has difficulty initiating or maintaining friendships. Referrers often feel the child would benefit from some pragmatic social language instruction, that is, learning specifically about how to use language appropriately in social situations. Often children (such as Jamie) have particular challenges in managing their behavior in an expected and socially accepted way for their age in relation to their peers.

LIH Olivia’s Place currently offers social skills groups based on the social cognition program developed by Michelle Garcia Winner, known as “Social Thinking.” The Social Thinking program is not designed to cover all “social skill” difficulties. Rather, it is designed to be most effective for Emerging Social Communicators, with the goals of the group to help children improve in the areas of: Joint Attention, Perspective Taking, Developing Reciprocity, Communicative Intent, and Using Language to relate to others. Social Thinking is a language-based learning approach, and so to benefit from this approach, children require solid to advanced verbal language skills. Read more

Activities to Develop Your Child’s Social Skills

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by Edna Elisabeth Nyang, Speech-Language Pathologist, Speech-Language Lead Bejing

by Edna Elisabeth Nyang, Speech-Language Pathologist, Speech-Language Lead Bejing

Children experience many new and unfamiliar situations. Sometimes these situations can also seem new and unfamiliar to their parents! This is especially true for expatriate children who are living with their parents outside of their home culture. It may also be true for children who are attending a school that is different in curriculum, language, or expectations than the schools their parents attended, or where caregivers from several generations are supporting a child. For children (like their parents), depending on their personality, this can feel exciting and even overwhelming at times. Sometimes, as a caregiver, we may have the urge to establish an oasis at home in hopes of making our children feel more comfortable. Unfortunately, this can have the opposite effect and create a situation where the child has little exposure to others outside of their family. It’s important for all children to learn the verbal and non-verbal rules needed to participate in interactions with their peers.

Even though these rules may vary widely across various cultures, the intentions and goals of each interaction are relatively the same. Social interaction is something that we should participate in daily. Whenever your child is in a group of two or more people, it is important to see how well he or she can follow unwritten rules of social communication. For example, is he able to make eye contact to acknowledge a person or to make a request? Can he make a request by using a gesture or words? Is she able to start and maintain a conversation? Can she discuss a variety of topics? Is she able to recognize basic emotions in others? Can she change her response based on how someone else feels? If he is having trouble, do you (or others) jump in to communicate on his behalf or is he allowed to figure it out on his own? While most of us can make the correct decision in various social situations without giving it much thought, these interactions can be extremely difficult for those who have difficulty with social cues.

Here are a couple activities that you can try with your child at home to help increase their awareness of non-verbal cues and build on their skills:

  • Eye Spy is a good activity if you would like your child to work on locating and referencing items in your immediate environment. Have your child take turns describing and searching for items in the room. Start by reminding students that eyes are like pointers that show what someone is thinking about. Choose something in the room to look at, and tell them they have to guess what you’re thinking of. In the beginning, choose items that are close by, then work up to things that are farther away. Tell students that this is why we look at others when we’re talking or listening to them–it shows them that we are thinking about them. For those who may need extra assistance, you can use a small pen light or flashlight to help them find the objects or you can give them a “hint” by cutting out a “thought bubble” and glue it to a popsicle stick. Use a small piece of tape to attach a clue about the item you’re thinking about (I use small squares of colored paper to show the child what color the object is).


  • Use books to help your child learn about and understand idioms. One book that I recommend is In a Pickle and Other Funny Idioms by Marvin Terban. It gives a funny literal illustration and provides background history on each phrase. Once your child learns a few idioms, have them create a mini performance and act out the meaning of each one.


  • Board games are great activities to encourage turntaking among peers. I like playing Chutes and Ladders for younger children and Operation or Headbandz for the older kids.


  • Action games are a great way to engage children to have them give directions for others. Simon Says is great for younger children and Mother May I can hold the attention of older kids.


  • Emotional Charades is a great game for kids who have difficulty recognizing basic emotions in others. Instead of using movie titles or animals or other typical words, use emotions. Take turns picking a slip of paper and then acting out the word written on it or have the child draw a picture and describe it.


  • Storytelling is a great way to have a child work on turn taking and expanding their sentences by using their imagination. You can use photo cards to help your child decide what should be in the story. By adding pencil and paper, the child can draw small scenes to remember what is happening in the story and use the drawings to retell the story.


If you find that your child is having difficulty participating in these activities or if they present with a few of the following signs, you may want to consider consulting with a speech language pathologist:  difficulty following directions that are not paired with visuals (pictures, objects), limited or no eye contact, doesn’t understand jokes or idioms, never initiates conversation with others, only wants to talk about him or herself, and/or doesn’t like to play with others.