Posted by: l2bb | May 16, 2010

Teaching social skills: Another step in preventing bullying

As discussed in some of my previous posts, one of the reasons why children may bully others is because they have not developed appropriate social skills.  For this reason, teaching social skills is one way to help prevent bullying.

What are social skills

As discussed by Conway (2009) there are a range of different social skills.  They include the following:

  1. Interpersonal behaviours: behaviours that help children make and keep friendships.   This includes the skill of introducing yourself,  finding ways to join in with others in games, being helpful and caring.
  2. Peer-related social skills: These are skills children need in order to interact successfully and develop a sense of belonging with a group of peers.  They include skills such as sharing, taking turns, and the ability to correctly predict and respond to others’ feelings and emotions (theory of mind).
  3. Teacher-pleasing skills: These are skills children need to participate in expected and non-disruptive ways in the classroom.  They include the ability to follow instructions, concentrate and listen.
  4. Self-related behaviours: These are skills essential to the problem-solving process.  This includes the ability to control your impulses, identify and manage your emotions, and use a range of strategies to cope with difficult situations.
  5. Assertiveness skills: For preschoolers this would be described as “using your words!”  It is about expressing and standing up for your beliefs and needs without using violence.
  6. Communication skills: These include expressive (having your say) and receptive (listening to others) skills.  Communication is not just about being able to speak and hear, or understand words.  It is also about pragmatics – or social skills such as waiting your turn to speak and staying on topic in a conversation, showing you are listening to what is being said to you.

How can a lack of social skills lead to bullying?

If you don’t know how to make friends —–> you might try to become popular based on gaining power over others.

If you don’t have the skills to keep friends —-> you may be bossy, controlling and aggressive to get your own way.

If you don’t have problem-solving skills —-> you may use physical, verbal or relational aggression to express your feelings.

If you don’t have assertiveness skills —-> you may use aggression to get what you need.

If you don’t have communication skills —-> you may use physical, verbal or relational aggression to express your feelings, needs and wants.

Teaching social skills

As discussed by Williams and Reisberg (2003) there are several key steps we should use when teaching social skills.

  1. Direct Instruction: Explaining the skill step by step, and the purpose of the skill.
  2. Modelling: Using strategies such as role play or drama so that students can see the skill in action.
  3. Guided Practice: Setting up games, group work or cooperative learning experiences and “coaching” students in using the skill.  This can be through the use of task cards, verbal or visual prompts (such as a “talking stick” when teaching the skill of turn-taking in conversation).
  4. Independent Practice: This step basically involves the adult watching students closely, and providing praise, rewards and consequences where necessary.
  5. Generalisation: This includes watching and encouraging students, where appropriate, to use the skill at home, in the playground, in the community as well as in the classroom.

A final note

One of the greatest mistakes made with trying to change behaviour is jumping straight to independent practice.  If we put in place a reward/consequence system – eg. where children/youth get stars or points for showing a particular skill – without first teaching and coaching the child in the behaviours then we are setting the child/youth (and ourselves) for failure.

A child can’t display a skill if they aren’t first taught that skill.


Conway, R.  (2008).  Encouraging Positive Interactions.  In P.Foreman (Ed), Inclusion in Action, pp198-244.  Thomson Education: Sydney.

Raymond, E.B.  (2004).  Learners with Mild Disabilities: A Characteristics Approach. New York: Pearson Education.

Williams, G.J. & Reisberg, L.  (2003).  Successful Inclusion: Teaching Social Skills Through Curriculum Integration.  Intervention in School and Clinic, 28(4), pp205-210.



  1. There are so many of us, for whom sites and info like this is so meaningful – thank you, to illustrate in the city where I live there are 4 schools that will take children on the AS – 2 of them take 5 and 12 kids respectively (low functioning); 1 other has 5 classes – 2 low functioning, 3 low to medium functioning (28 students in total); 1 school takes various AS students – waiting lists on all of these are closed. The mainstream schools can choose if they will take your child or not. Private schools are the best option because at least the classes are smaller 25 and less pupils (government schools the classes are 30-52 children). The remedial schools all insist on doing IQ tests – and if your child is not highly verbal they tend to score low and do not get placed in any case. SO, if I say thank you – because a lot of the education gets done at home (if not all); then you know what I mean. PS. We have a full total of 3 ABA therapists in our city. I think that you get the point.

  2. I like your insight and suggestions. Alas, all of them require long-term action and attention. Bullying is a complex problem to solve.

    • I totally agree that bullying is a very complex issue. One post can never address its complexity. And, yes, preventing bullying is a long-term, ongoing effort. It is about being proactive from when children are very young. We need very different strategies if bullying is alreading happening. In that case we need to respond or react to the event as required … a topic I will discuss in the future.

  3. […] Explicit Teaching and Modelling:  The program itself gives teachers (an families) a platform from which they can discuss and model positive problem-solving skills.  This is an essential element of successful social skills programs (as discussed previously). […]

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