Social Skills and Church

Tonya Langdon —  January 4, 2011

Over the years I have lead a support group and worked with parents whose children have learning disabilities or have behavioral disorders at our church. Parents often express their frustrations about their child’s academic performance; however these same parents are reduced to tears when they realize that their child does not have any friends, endures isolation every day at church/school or is a target of a bully. We can accommodate or make allowances for a child’s academics performance through academic modifications; however we are unable to compensate or modify for their lack of social skills or peer acceptance. Almost every situation that we encounter is a social interaction; from getting along with peers, siblings, teachers, parents to gift giving.

What are social skills and why are they so important? Social Skills are a collection of isolated and discrete learned behaviors that enable an individual to interact appropriately in a social setting. The lack of social skills or the mastery of social skills will affect the child’s entire life and can be the determining factor in their future success, happiness and acceptance by others. Accepted etiquette is a part of the social skills set; however it will not improve their acceptance at church or school. For those children who lack social skills we need to teach them in a sequential and deliberate manner.

In recent years studies show that children with learning disorders, sensory integration disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder and Asperger Syndrome have particular difficulty learning social skills that most children and adults learn by “osmosis”. The current research shows they;

  • Are more likely to be rejected or isolated by classmates or peers
  • Are more often the object of negative or non-supportive statements, criticism, warnings and non verbal reactions from teachers
  • Are less likely to adapt to new social settings
  • Are more likely to be judged negatively by adults after informal observation
  • Receive less affection from parents and siblings
  • Have less tolerance for frustration and failure
  • Use oral language that is less mature, meaningful or concise
  • Have difficulty interpreting or inferring the meanings of others in a conversation
  • Seeing from another perspective, or taking conversational turns
  • Have difficulty understanding humor, sarcasm, or ambiguities in oral language
  • Chronic rejection and separation from peers at school compromises academic success
  • Mental health (anxiety, depression) is closely associated with and are often made worse by social incompetence.

Think back to the last time you observed two children “fighting” or engaging in a not so friendly conversation in your class…what is the core of the issue? Did one of the children encroach on another child’s sense of space? Did one of the younger children hit another child out of frustration due to missed nonverbal signal to leave them alone? Are they left alone due to the child’s inability to enter into a conversation or group of peers? With approximately 55% of all communication is nonverbal, 40% is communicated through tone of voice and 5% are the actual words it is easy to see how a child’s social skill deficit can affect their ability to make and keep friends at church.  One of the easiest and most effective strategy to help a child learn social skills during a squirmish will take you about 2 minutes and will leave both children with their dignity.

  1. Ask the children what happened, starting at the beginning allowing each child to tell their side of the story in a private conversation with you. Don’t interrupt or be judgmental.
  2. Restate the problem to the children. Once you have clarified what the “problem” is, ask the offending child what was the “social error” or mistake that they made. If they are to able to articulate or identify the problem coach them through this process.
  3. Once the error has been identified, come up with possible alternatives to the situations or what the effects of their behaviors is on others i.e.; standing to close, making fun of someones clothing, etc. Don’t say “should” instead use “could” which helps the child to see what options are available. Avoid scolding or repriminding when it is a social skill problem, not a willful act of disobedience or misbehavior.

Using this technique for social skills errors or problems allows the child to learn the needed skills in”a safe, non-threatening manner and are more likely to want to participate in “problem solving”. Most children will respond positively to this technique when they see this as a teaching moment, not as “I am in trouble again” moment.

“You can’t dry tears with notebook paper.” – Charles Schultz

Tonya Langdon

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Tonya is married with three children. Tonya currently spearheads The Agape Connections (special needs ministry), teaches the 4th & 5th grade Sunday school class and leads a support group for parents who have children with A.D.H.D. and Behavioral Disorders at Skyline Church in La Mesa, Ca. The Agape Connections work with families who have special needs children so the entire family is able to attend church services and age appropriate church activities. In Tonya’s “free time” she is studying for ordination, writes articles and co-owns an office products business with her brother.

4 responses to Social Skills and Church

  1. Very good post. I teach early childhood students everyday Monday-Friday. One of our main goals is to teach social skills and help the students learn to play together at times and give one another alone time and time to themselves at other times.
    It is interesting to watch students play together. In my class they play well together until something happens: one decides he wants what the other one wants then one gets angry and they hit. We are constantly telling and showing them how to use their words and teaching them the proper way to get what they want. Often one student says ‘he’s not sharing’ when the truth is that other student isn’t finished with that toy. One thinks the other isn’t sharing because he won’t give up the toy ‘right now.’
    It’s amazing how things work out when the teacher gets down on their levels to calmly explain how to ask for toys and how to wait till others are finished with toys. We are even seeing students get another block/toy and give it to the student who wants the one he has.
    Social skills are important for getting along all throughout life and it all starts with learning to get along in early childhood.

  2. An excellent article with some very practical application. Thanks for getting this out there!

  3. Very nice article-I posted the link on our Facebook site so that the church staff and volunteers we serve will access it as a resource. I liked the way you communicated to volunteers the importance of looking at the behaviors with a non-judgmental approach.

    One observation…Volunteers shouldn’t necessarily expect the child with the social skills weakness to recognize when their response is the one different from what is expected by adults and the other kids in the room. The older kids get and the brighter they are, the more they start to ‘get” more appropriate strategies for responding to disagreements and conflicts, but younger kids have no way of knowing that everyone else sees the situation from a different frame of reference.

  4. GREAT stuff Tonya! This is a really helpful article for kidmin volunteers and leadership.

    Looking forward to having you on the panel at the Children’s Pastors Conference in San Diego!