This is the first in an ongoing series I will be presenting on Social Skills. I spend a significant portion of my clinical practice working with children and teens on social skills. Many parents are curious about my approach and philosophy on teaching social skills, so I thought I would begin posting my thoughts on the matter (in no specific order). I will being by discussing ‘impressions’ and the initial need to be seen and not heard.
I often discuss social interactions as similar to advertising impressions. For example, when businesses buy billboard advertising on the side of highways, they often first collect statistics on how many “impressions” their billboard location has on a particular day. The advertisers want to know specifically how many individuals will see their advertisement over the course of a day, week, month, or year.
Individuals with social skills difficulties often become dejected and suffer a loss of self-esteem when they make one or perhaps even a handful of attempts at engaging others in a social interaction and these attempts are unsuccessful. I am often able to use my advertising analogy with my clients who will begin to understand that not every person who drives by the Pepsi billboard on the highway is going to purchase that particular product.
When the available options for friendships is smaller such as in an elementary school, certainly the stakes are higher and each impression that is made must count. However, I often coach my high school-age clients that they cannot expect to sit in their basement playing video games every weekend and then come into my office wondering why they are not more popular in school. We often discuss the ‘content and process’ approach to social interactions which can be loosely applied to various junior high school and high school activities.
For example, I may work with individuals who have little interest in sports especially when it comes to participating in them. However, anyone who has attended high school is well aware of the fact that, especially during the fall and early winter months, the place to be is the local high school football game on Friday night. When it comes to “impressions” such as those found in advertising, being seen even if not heard is a basic starting block for my clients.
I have to remind these individuals to relax initially and just be there rather than try to initiate interactions with others or practice social skills techniques they may have learned by reading a book or from a counseling session or group. I am generally opposed to social skills techniques being ‘taught’ because the nature of individuals with social difficulties is to study and memorize something in a rote fashion or linear manner and social interactions are far from rote or linear. More on that topic in a future posting…
Indeed, although these individuals would love nothing more than to reduce social interactions down into a mathematical formula where there is a very specific path that must be followed in order to reach the appropriate or correct outcome, social interactions are generally not linear or rote, and are instead fluid and contain millions of variables and exponents that might be comparable to the mathematical variable of ∏ (Pi). Thus, I want my clients to begin their experimentation into the social world by making impressions. In order to do this, they must be out and about.
Dr. Mark Bowers is a Licensed Pediatric Psychologist and Autism/Anxiety expert at the Ann Arbor Center for Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Learn more about his Social Skills groups here.
© 2009 Mark Bowers, Ph.D.