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Social Skills 101

Your Child And Social Goals

It’s never easy to witness your child struggle to make friends but for Complex Learners, social skills often don’t come easily. As a parent of a Complex Learner, you might see your child struggle to maintain friendships, or even have difficulty engaging in conversation or play with other children. Sometimes, social challenges might even come across as a lack of interest in social relationships even though the desire for friendship and connection is often there!

At Wolf, our incredible Speech & Language Pathologists often help our students in identifying social goals and work with them to achieve success. While getting students invested in their own social skill development can be difficult, for gains to be made it’s critical for the child to be engaged. But how does this work? And what can you do at home to help this process? We spoke with Wolf’s own SLP, Anna Zembo, to learn more about involving children in identifying their own social needs, developing their goals, and working toward strengthening their social smarts! 


Involving your child in identifying their own social needs and crafting their own goals can be a powerful way to put them in the driver’s seat when it comes to social intervention and skill-building. Not only will this help them be more engaged in the process but it also helps to foster their independence as they work on identifying areas of growth, following through on their plans, and tracking their progress! 

Any child who struggles socially can benefit from social goals but for best results, it is helpful if your child has participated in social intervention in the past. This helps them to be more aware of their skills and their social world. But don’t let that stop you! Feel free to give it a try with anyone! Your child may surprise you with their insights about their own social skills. 

The Process:

Start by asking: 

Start by asking your child if there are any social skills or social situations they would like to practice or improve in like basic conversation skills, working on playing with others, strengthening their ability to talk to someone at the grocery store, or even asking for help in a restaurant. If your child has ideas, great, if not, don’t worry. This is common and we’ve got a trick to help them brainstorm.

Begin broad: 

It’s helpful to start with a large inventory of social skills that range from basic to complex. Typically, at Wolf, we give students a list of about 20 big areas of social skills that each have a few smaller/more specific skills listed underneath to help students brainstorm. This is where awareness comes in as your child will be more willing to pick a realistic area to focus on if they have an understanding of their own areas of growth. 

Narrow in: 

Next, have your child select 3 areas they’d like to focus on and then compare this list with the areas you see as needs for your child.


If your areas overlap with your child’s, great! If not, it’s time to have a conversation to better understand their perspective and guide their focus to get them on the right track. But remember, we want your child to feel like they’re in the driver’s seat. If their area of focus is meaningful to them, give it a try, even if it’s different from what your priorities are!


Once your child has selected an area to focus on like “conversation skills” or “talking with friends at recess”, the next step is to guide them through the process of making their goals “S.M.A.R.T” or “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.” This usually includes some support in how to make a goal more specific (e.g., going from “conversation skills” to “starting a conversation with a friend at recess”), measurable (e.g., using a tracking system to keep track of their progress), and time-bound (e.g., going from “starting a conversation with a friend at recess” to “starting a conversation with one friend at recess every day”). 


Once a child has their SMART goal, it’s important to check-in. At Wolf, we’ll check in at least once a week to see how things are going. We use customized desk trackers and dedicated reflection time for students to check in on their own progress. Have they practiced their skills? What has worked well? What has been difficult? What would they like to focus on in the days ahead? If you’re trying this out at home, this can simply be a check-in as they’re packing their lunch for the next day or they can keep a journal to track their progress. 

Social skills can be difficult for Complex Learners. That’s why it’s important for parents to practice patience and understanding. Start with small goals so your child doesn’t get discouraged and even encourage them to start with something you know they’ll have a good chance of success with! Try to keep it as positive and fun as possible. But remember that sometimes your child might just need a break to recharge and rest – and that’s okay! This is a journey and it’ll make all of the difference when they have you in their corner celebrating their wins both big and small!

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