For James, 7, making friends didn’t come easily. He had a hard time sitting still. He was impulsive and would often blurt things out in class. He had trouble starting conversations with his classmates and he struggled with sharing and taking turns on the playground equipment.
Fortunately, James’s first-grade class is one of the happy participants of social skills groups facilitated by JFCS’ Parents Place. James’ teacher started him in the group and within a few months he was coming out of his shell, engaging more with his peers and, to his surprise, he even made a friend. Soon the two boys were building blocks, playing board games together, and taking turns.
Beyond Autism, Many Children Struggle
For kids like James who are finding that social interactions aren’t coming easily, Social Skills Groups provide the extra support they need to learn interactive, friendship, and problem-solving skills. Guided by experienced group leaders, kids sing songs, play games, and role-play interactions with their peers. They’re having fun while receiving live feedback from professionals, and learning how to read social cues and get along with others.
“In the past, social skills building was regarded as something only to teach children on the autism spectrum. Now it’s seen as important for children facing a wide variety of challenges,” says Mimi Ezray, LCSW, MPH, of Parents Place on the Peninsula.
“That sense of being accepted by your peers is critical to your self esteem. If you don’t have that, it severely undermines your ability to learn and develop.”
Studies have shown that our happiness as adults is best predicted by the depth and breadth of connections we form with others. Building friendships begins early and lays the foundation for future relationships.
Social-Emotional Well-being In and Out of School
This past school year, JFCS’ Parents Place partnered with the acclaimed AltSchool, a private alternative school in Palo Alto, to run onsite social skills groups.
The groups have been such as a success that they’re bringing the groups to more AltSchools campuses in the fall.
“Many schools throughout the Bay Area are expressing an interest in social-emotional learning. They’re recognizing that this type of skills-building boosts students’ success in school as well as in their overall well-being,” says Mimi.
At the Forefront of a Growing Trend
The whole idea of teaching social skills is a relatively new concept. JFCS’ Parents Place has been running social skills groups for over six years and has been at the forefront.
“We’re definitely seeing a trend in educators and parents having a greater appreciation for social skills,” says Stephanie Agnew, Assistant Director at Parents Place on the Peninsula and a Social Skills Group Facilitator.
“It’s widely understood now how foundational these skills are to a child’s sense of self.”
Remarkable Transformations Seen in Children
Stephanie ran James’ social skills group. She recalls a meeting with his mom at the end of the school year where the two discussed how much James had changed.
“This is a child who had not been connected before socially,” says Stephanie. “Now he has the self-confidence to open himself up. The transformation was remarkable.”
Jen Aguilar, a teacher at AltSchool, has seen this transformation with many of her students.
“As the social skills group progressed, we were so happy to find children using new language and strategies to communicate needs and engage in productive play with other children,” says Jen.
Advantages of a School-Based Model
What sets JFCS’ Parents Place groups apart is that they are customized to each group and to each child.
While groups are also available at JFCS’ Parents Place on-site locations on the Peninsula and in Sonoma County, the new school-based model is unique in that children can participate with their classmates in the context of their school environment.
An added benefit is that children who are strong in social skills development can act as role models to children who are struggling.
Bringing the Model to More Children
JFCS is seeking increased funding to bring Social Skills Groups to more children who are in need of scholarships, including children who come to our Parents Place family resource centers and for children who attend schools that do not have the resources for these programs.
Scholarships and Subsidies are Available
Students who would benefit from a Social Skills Group and whose families may not be able to afford the full cost may receive a scholarship for services because of the generous support of the JFCS community.
“There are so many children who could benefit from developing social skills such as learning how to get along in a group and how to be kind,” says Mimi.
“When these skills are taught to young children, they stay with them for life.”
If you would like to donate to help expand the social skills program in your area, please contact Barbara Farber at BarbaraF@jfcs.org or 415-449-3858.
If you’re interested in bringing a Parents Place Social Skills Group to your child’s preschool or elementary school, find out more at Parents Place online > http://parentsplaceonline.org/find-help/grow/social-skills-groups/
Partial funding for the JFCS’ Parents Place is provided by generous individual support, foundation grants, and named endowment funds.