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Get Your Students Into Social Shape

By Jaleh Donaldson
Jaleh Donaldson

Sometimes the pressure of fitting in with peers, dealing with an unstable home environment, or developing individuality becomes too much for kids in their impressionable years. Those who have a particularly difficult time at school are often seen having an underdeveloped skill set for academic and social success. Just like anything else in life, children are not born with social skills; they need to be taught.

Help your students develop social skills and manage their behaviors and actions through these tried and tested ways.

Discuss feelings

Give students language for their feelings. With my students, I present a story or video to help generate a discussion about how the characters are feeling. Then I help them describe what the feeling looks like and how their body may feel when they experience it.

Teach them “I” messages

I have noticed that kids who misbehave often don’t have the words to communicate what is on their mind. Have your students practice communicating what they feel and want. For example, one student might say to another, “I feel sad when you don’t share the basketball. I want us to share the basketball.” This exercise will help students feel more comfortable expressing themselves to others.

Involve families

Educate families about the different feeling words and how “I” messages can empower their child. Encourage families to use “I” messages and brainstorm solutions to different situations that arise. Having a positive family role model can increase a child’s chances of succeeding in school.

Provide positive verbal feedback

When you see a student make good social choices, give them positive verbal feedback to help further encourage the behavior. For example, Matthew bumps into Ryan. Ryan falls and expresses pain. Matthew then asks, “Are you OK? Is there anything I can do to help you?” Soon after their interaction, you can point out to Matthew how you liked the way he asked Ryan if he needed help.

Acknowledge differences

Some students take longer than their peers to employ the social tools they are provided within their daily lives. During this process of learning, it goes without saying that patience, empathy and a few words of kindness go a long way. The student will not only be motivated to try again if they fail, but will also learn the value of compassion.

Create a social club

With the help of a few students, create a social club where kids can play games, create projects and take on leadership roles. Working with each other inculcates a sense of cooperation in young adults and provides them a medium through which to develop communication and teamwork skills. The social club can take place during or before lunch, or after school.

Connect with appropriate resources

It is important to connect your student to the appropriate resources if you feel they need more help than you can provide. For instance, I had a student who displayed anger toward other students and had trouble focusing at school. After talking with her, I learned that she had been dealing with the loss of her mom. I got her connected with a school counselor, and over time, she improved at school.


Jaleh Donaldson is a member of San Juan Teachers Association. She is an educator and author of various magazine articles and a published book on marriage.

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