Social Skills Training

The Intervention

Social skills training interventions are designed to teach students prosocial skills for effective interpersonal interactions. This intervention may be provided in an individual or group format. When using this intervention, the school mental health professional (SMHP) presents a social skill, teaches the student about the skill, demonstrates it, and then provides opportunities for the student to practice the skill individually and in group settings. SMHPs should give positive and constructive feedback about the skill application as well as prompt and encourage the application of the skill when appropriate. Often times, social skills training interventions present a social skill of the week, but you may want to spend multiple weeks on a particular skill as needed. There are many manualized social skills training programs that already exist, or you may develop your own program based on the needs of your students.

Common Social Skill Targets

  • Problem solving
  • Understanding verbal and nonverbal cues
  • Participation
  • Cooperation
  • Active listening
  • Communication
  • Assertiveness/advocating for yourself
  • Personal space
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Emotion regulation (see Emotion Management Training for an intervention that specifically focuses on this skill)
  • Stress management
  • Initiating and maintaining conversations
  • Manners
  • Sharing
  • Validation
  • Apologizing
  • Appropriate use of humor
  • Intention vs. impact of behavior
  • Empathy and perspective taking
  • Responding to teasing and bullying
  • Leadership skills

  1. Decide on the format of your program. A group setting may be useful to help your students begin to generalize their social skills to real-world setting. An individual setting may allow you to tailor the program to a specific student’s needs.
  2. Develop a list of social skills you want to target. This may come from an already established social skills training program curriculum and/or from the specific needs of your students. When possible, allow students to play an active role in selecting the skills that they would like to learn and practice.
  3. Each session, you will introduce the targeted social skill. Introduce only one at a time so that the student is not overwhelmed and can focus on practicing that specific skill.
  4. Have your student give examples of how they (or others) are utilizing that skill and help them generate ideas of why the target skill is important. You may want to have them talk about their current successes and struggles with the particular skill.
  5. Give examples of what the skill looks like and when the skill might be used. You can do this using verbal examples, demonstrating the skills, or through creative outlets such as videos, movies, TV shows, or books.
  6. Have the student practice the skill in a hands-on and fun way. You may want to role play the chosen skills with various scenarios that could happen at school. If in a group setting, you can split the group into dyads or triads to role play. The student or group could also create a story or picture that represents the skill being used successfully. If possible, have the student practice the skill in a safe space with another student. This can be a friend, peer, or another student in the social skills training group.
  7. You may want to assign “between-session activities” for your student(s) to practice the targeted skill during the school day and/or at home. After the first session, you can begin each session with a check-in about how their practice went and problem solve any issues that come up. You can also observe students in social situations during the week and observe their use (or lack of use) of the skills. Subtle prompting to use the skills in these situations may enhance generalization.
  8. Repeat this process with the next social skill when you and your student(s) are ready to proceed.

  • Performance vs. skill difficulties: It is important to understand the difference between skill deficits (lack of knowledge or ability to demonstrate the skill) and performance deficits (knowledge and ability to demonstrate the skill but difficulty applying the skill in real time). Social skills training is likely to have a greater impact on students who have skill deficit rather than performance deficits (e.g., commonly observed in children with ADHD). When students have performance deficits, application with feedback and the point of performance is critical to changing behavior. For performance deficits, consider adding a social skill to a Daily Report Card intervention.
  • Generalizability: One of the main drawbacks of social skills training interventions are that students do not typically generalize the skills they learn with a SMHP to the real world. Many students can learn social skills during the sessions, but do not use them outside of the group or individual sessions. Although research suggests that traditional social skills training as described above does not provide meaningful benefit for most children and adolescents. However, some studied using it with elementary aged students in a way that integrates it with the classroom and other settings. This can involve having teachers and other school staff individually praise or reward students for demonstrating the social skills in various settings throughout the school. In order to be effective, the praise or reward should be consistent and provided in numerous school settings. This approach has shown some benefits when prompting and adult coaching are very frequent throughout the day. Less frequent prompts and coaching has not been found to be very effective. In addition, it has not been evaluated with adolescents and there is reason to believe that it is likely to be less effective with adolescents than younger children. (See Interpersonal Skills Training for an alternative approach for adolescents)
  • Collaboration: Collaboration with parents can also be useful for generalizing the skill to a student’s everyday life. Inform parents about the skills being taught and how to support practice of these skills, and how to praise and reinforce the use of these skills outside of school.
  • Mentors: It may be beneficial to utilize peer mentors to help a student learn and practice these social skills. These mentors may be more socially skilled same-age or older students.
  • Repeated practice: Just like learning new academic skills, learning new social skills is a process and youth benefit from repeated practice and reinforcement. If the student is not using the skill appropriately, it is important to provide that feedback and give corrective examples of the expected behavior.
  • Adult feedback: Students with interpersonal problems are not always the best reporters of the role their behavior is playing in their relationships. Because of this, it is important to seek adult feedback about the use of the skill. Better yet, observe the student in the cafeteria or at recess to note whether the student is using the skill.
  • Age-appropriate skills: Make sure that the skills you are choosing to teach your student are age appropriate. As children age, their social skills develop. Consider what skills are necessary and adaptive for their age group. For middle and high school students, consider utilizing interpersonal skills training instead as an intervention that is more effective and generalizable.
  • Cultural considerations: It is important to note that some social skills may be very culturally dependent. Consider the culture(s) that your students identify with and the social norms of those cultures when you are choosing the skills you include in your social skills program.

Intervention Scorecard

This intervention is recommended for the following presenting problems.

Select an age group:


Other suitable presenting problems