Social skills: Listening and conversation skills

Social skills are what we need to form interactions and build relationships. It includes things like actively listening, body language, and conversation skills. Developing social skills is essential for things like interacting well with peers at school, managing conflict, and understanding or interpreting others and oneself. Over time, we develop an understanding of how to react in social situations, which is a key part of childhood. There are many different types of social skills, one of which is the ability to have conversations, including initiating, facilitating, and finishing a conversation.

How do Occupational Therapists Help Develop Conversation Skills?

Occupational therapists help to teach and develop social skills. There are a variety of ways that this can be done in the case of conversational skills:

  • Through modelling and role play to explore conversation components like greetings, appropriate questions, and responses, in a safe, supportive environment
  • With visual aids and social stories to provide examples of conversations and what it consists of, like more than one person, a shared topic, and a back-and-forth way of talking
  • With social skills games to practice real life scenarios and explore initiating and responding during conversation, in a fun and engaging way
  • Providing education on conversation stoppers and conversation drivers

Conversation “stoppers” are things that will end a conversation. These are things like:

  • Only talking about yourself
  • Yes or no answers
  • Changing the subject suddenly
  • Not finishing sentences
  • Not taking turns in the conversation

Conversation “drivers” are things that keep a conversation going. These are things like:

  • Using “please” and “thank you”
  • Introducing yourself
  • Giving compliments
  • Making connected comments and asking connected questions
  • Giving enough detail

Why is it Important?

These skills are important to learn as it builds awareness of self in that the things that we say can create a response from someone else. It also builds awareness of other people’s feelings, and how our actions and words have an influence on others. These things are the cornerstones of empathy. Learning about conversations can also help children to develop their social skills, particularly in meeting new people and building relationships. These types of skills are useful for everyday life as well, like interacting with others at school to speaking to the cashier at the supermarket.

What Can Parents Do?

There are ways that as caregivers, you can support your child to develop social and conversation skills. This includes things like:

  • Supporting your child with greetings and farewells with others
  • Name the skill your child is using, and the emotion it may create, during conversation, with things like “I like how you asked me how my day was going, it shows me that you care about me!”
  • Model appropriate responses during conversation with others
  • Discuss conversation skills and relate back to your child’s interest, like with their favourite television show or favourite book character
  • Build your child’s self-awareness by exploring and talking about how they are feeling, particularly when they have recently felt big emotions like excitement, sadness, or anger

Building social skills is an ongoing process. As children grow up, they will be exposed to different social scenarios, and learn how to interact with others within these situations. Occupational therapists develop social skills with children so that they can interact well with others and have the knowledge and confidence behind them to do so.

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