What are Social Skills and Why Do We Need Them?


Girl sitting alone

What are social skills?
The term “social skills” generally refers to the set of skills required for successful interactions. Typically, these skills include: making eye contact, starting a conversation, staying on topic, demonstrating active listening, asking appropriate questions, making and keeping friends, impulse control (physical as well as verbal), joining in with peers, following directions, compromising, and managing frustration.                             

Why are social skills important?

Studies show that social skills are important for academic success, emotional well-being, and self-esteem. Individuals with poor social skills are at a higher risk for peer rejection, behavior problems, and poor academic achievement, as well as drug abuse, teen pregnancy, suicide, delinquency, and gang involvement (Nelsen, Lott, & Glenn, 1997). Poor interpersonal skills in childhood can predict academic problems in adolescents and lead to internalizing issues, like anxiety and depression, in adulthood (Masten et al., 2005). Social skill struggles can cause people to feel rejected by their peers, which can lead to low self-esteem and negative feelings.

Why do social skills come naturally to some people?

Some of us naturally pick up on unspoken social rules, such as Looking people in the eye when you first meet them or Turning around and facing the doors in an elevator so you don’t stare at other people. When we think about it, most of us have no idea how we know these rules or if someone ever taught them to us. We probably just observed other people doing it and then realized that was what we should be doing. Often, when someone has anxiety, ADHD, learning differences, or autism spectrum disorder they do not always pick up on these unspoken rules. Their own anxiety or attention struggles may get in the way of them noticing where other people are looking or what other people are doing.

Are all social skill struggles the same?

In general, there are two distinct types of social skills deficits. The first is skill-based: The person just does not know the skill. If taught the skill, such as Walk up to your classmate and say “Hi, do you want to play with me?” they will successfully repeat the phrase or action. For these individuals, teaching social rules and norms can be extremely helpful. The second type is performance-based: The person knows the skill but anxiety, attention struggles, or low self-esteem stands in the way of successfully putting the skill into practice. They may know that they should ask people to play, but the attempts they make are not very effective. For example, they may stand too far away or speak very softly at recess when asking people to play. They may feel that peers are rejecting them but, in reality, peers do not know they are trying to interact. Some people have both a skill deficit and a performance deficit. For these individuals, it is helpful to both teach the skill and coach them on how to implement it.

What does a social skills group do?

Social skills groups are designed to teach social skills and help people execute them. Typically, a skill is introduced, then participants engage in a short activity or game where they practice the skill. Often when we try out a new skill, we don’t do it perfectly the first time. In-the-moment coaching and feedback can help people master the skill. Social skills groups that are led by a counselor or social worker tend to focus more on the group process and relationships between members. Group members are encouraged to give one another gentle feedback about their behavior. This peer feedback is the catalyst for change.

How long do people need a social skills group?

Everyone learns at a different pace. Some learners may master specific skills within months, while others may need ongoing group experience to be successful. During social skills groups, it is critical that the therapist, client, and other individuals (teachers, parents, etc.) frequently evaluate goals and progress.

Why use art in a social skills group?

We use art in groups for several reasons. The first is that art is a way to engage children and teens. Secondly, art activities provide a platform to practice the skills. Group members participate in collaborative projects, which require communication, cooperation and compromise. In addition, group members use a variety of art materials to create visual, tangible reminders that represent the skills. Then, when they see the reminders in their home, it will remind them to continue to utilize the skills outside of group. Participants do not need to be good at drawing to participate in these groups. Groups utilize paint, drawing, clay, photography, 3-dimensional materials, collage, and mixed media.

Four kids togetherTo learn more about Art It Out’s social skills groups, call us at 770-796-9589 or email us at info@artitout.com.

• Nelsen, J., Lott, L., & Glenn, H. S. (1997). Positive discipline in the classroom. Rocklin, CA: Prima Pub.
• Masten, A. S., Roisman, G. I., Long, J. D., Burt, K. B., Obradovic, J., Riley, J. R., et al. (2005). Developmental cascades: Linking academic achievement and externalizing and internalizing symptoms over 20 years. Developmental Psychology, 41(5), 733–746.


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