How do we help children learn to connect, communicate, and read minds? We like to do it through play and fun, easy to access activities. Social skills enable children to understand what that expression on their teacher’s face means. Having social skills enables children to relate positively to the people around them. As parents, we want our children not only to be kind but also to be able to navigate the complex maze of human relationships. Over the years we have created and improved on many social skills activities and games to help kids develop their social skills and emotional regulation.
SOCIAL SKILLS ACTIVITIES AND GAMES
First, you have to be a good friend to have a good friend. Social skills activities help build an understanding of feelings, builds social skills and support emotional regulation. Perspective taking is only possible once you understand your feelings and the feelings of others. Our social-emotional activities are designed for all children to enjoy but they are particularly helpful in enhancing social skills and peer relationships for children on the autism spectrum.
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Raising a social child builds the foundation for them to grow into being a healthy, happy adult. When children that can successfully navigate social situations, integrate perspective taking and create lasting relationships they are more productive and well-adjusted. These tips will help your children develop the social skills they need on their journey through our social world.
Recognizing & Understanding How You and Your Friends are Feeling
One of the first skills a child needs to develop is recognizing their feelings and the feelings of others. There is an infinite variety of ways to teach this to children and we have had loads of fun coming up with games and activities that children enjoy and ask to play over and over again.
Balloon People: Balloons are one of the best inventions ever! These balloon people help children explore and identify their emotions in a fun and playful way. Don’t be surprised if a tribe of balloon people invades your house.
Objectives: Emotional Awareness, Identifying feelings, Fine motor
My Many Colored Feelings Putting colors to emotions has been going on for centuries. Carol Grey made putting colors with emotions popular with her comic strip conversations. This activity helps children process their emotions using color as a visual aid.
Objectives: Processing Emotions, Theory of Mind
Two by Kathryn Otoshi – Picture Book Activities We are happy to share our Two by Kathryn Otoshi Her books are chock full of social-emotional lessons for kids. Explore feelings with this easy craft that is a great companion activity for the book TWO.
Objectives: Teasing, Theory of Mind, Friendship
Photo Face Collage: Not surprisingly, most children love making collages. So making a Photo Face Collage is an excellent activity for combining social skills and recognizing facial expressions.
Objectives: Recognizing and understanding facial expressions, identifying feelings.
Feel Your Feelings With Texture People: Some children connect their feelings best with words, others like colors or drawing or music. This activity is for those kids who like different textures. After all, when talking about feelings how often are the words “smooth” or “prickly” used to describe how one feels about a situation. This activity matches textures with emotions.
Objectives: Identifying and Exploring Emotions, Perspective Taking, Social Skills
Emotions Scavenger Hunt: Facial expressions can be difficult to read. A scavenger hunt will be a fun way to encourage children to look at and decipher other people’s emotions.
Objectives: Social-emotional skills, Visual scanning, Critical thinking skills.
Zeke Learns Facial Expressions!: One of the key ways to connect with people is through our facial expressions. Children benefit from learning how facial expressions need to match the emotions that they are feeling. Marcia Goldman cleverly demonstrates this through Lola. Lola, who is a rising star, tries to help her younger brother Zeke by teaching him how to use his facial expressions to show his emotions and become more engaging.
Objectives: Identifying and Exploring Emotions, Perspective Taking
How Am I Feeling? Social Skills Game: This free printable game deliberately mismatches the words to the feelings so that one needs to pay attention to the facial expression, body language, and tone in order to correctly guess the feeling. And the best part is seeing the kids roar with laughter as they connect and learn.
Objectives: Whole-body listening, Social Skills, Defining and Recognizing Feelings, Eye Contact.
Stick Up For Your Feelings: Social Skills Game: Kids practice their whole body listening and explore feelings with this fun activity.
Objectives: Whole-body listening, Social Skills, Defining and Recognizing Feelings, Eye Contact.
Activities to Help Children Learn Emotional Self-Regulation
In order to really enjoy being part of a group, we need to learn how to control our emotions. For some children, this can be very difficult but it can become easier with some direction and practice.
AJar Full of Feelings: Sometimes the hardest part of having emotional regulation is when we have mixed feelings. It can be very challenging to help children process a tangle of feelings so we came up with this activity to help them sort it out.
Objectives: Social-Emotional, Processing Feelings, Self-Regulation.
Put Your Thoughts on Ice: Social Emotional Activity: A fun activity involving ice and a hammer. This activity is great for dealing with feelings and obsessive thoughts.
Objectives: Social-Emotional, Processing Feelings, Perspective Taking, Social Skills.
Calm Down Kit for Older Kids: When children have a hard time controlling their frustration and anger in group settings, it can make other children feel uncomfortable. It also takes time away from having fun with friends. This kit is a tool that children are able to use when they need to calm down.
Objectives: Social-Emotional, Emotional Regulation.
Halloween Social Story: Halloween can be overwhelming for a child with special needs. For children who like things to be the same, the uproar surrounding the holiday may be confusing. Read this social story with your child to help them feel more comfortable.
Objectives: Social-emotional, Flexibility, Perspective Taking
Perspective Taking Activities
In order to be a good friend and respect others, it’s important to be able to understand the other’s person’s perspective. Children on the autism spectrum have such a strong sense of “I” that their world often can revolve around their own wants and needs. By teaching kids about perspective taking you also begin also teach empathy and understanding of others.
Privacy Circles: How many times has your child embarrassed you by blurting out personal information to a stranger? Or invited a neighbor that you barely know to a party at your house? Both of these things have happened to us. To help children understand what to share, we often use Privacy Circles to explain this confusing concept.
Objectives: Perspective Taking, Understanding Relationships, and Privacy
Self-Esteem Mirror: Healthy self-esteem is like a child’s armor against the challenges of the world. Kids who know their strengths and weaknesses and feel good about themselves seem to have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures. They tend to smile more readily and enjoy life.
Objectives: Bolstering Self-esteem, Empathy for yourself and Others.
Gratitude Garlands: Children with autism spectrum disorder do not intend to ignore other people’s feelings they just don’t realize that they are supposed to take that into consideration. This activity encourages thoughtfulness.
Objectives: Theory of Mind, Perspective Taking, Social-Emotional, Fine Motor, Hand Strength, Categorizing
What Job Do You Want?: Do you know what job you want to do when you grow up? Play this game and you may find your dream job!
Objectives: Cooperative Play, Referencing, Recognizing Body Language
How to Have a Good Friend and How to Be a Good Friend
While developing and maintaining friendships takes time and effort, good friends can improve a child’s mood and reduce stress and depression. Most importantly friendships keep children from feeling lonely.
Camera Chain Letter: The other day, I was cleaning out one of the many junk drawers in our home. Included in my findings were 2 disposable cameras that I remember purchasing back awhile ago and the idea of starting a photographic chain letter was born.
Objectives: Perspective Taking, Building Connections, Following directions
Letters From Florida Frenz: Having special needs can be lonely. To help the kids that we work with feel connected and supported we will set up kids as pen pals and encourage letter writing for kids so they can share their feelings and get some help from a friend. Florida Frenz, author of How to be Human, Diary of an Autistic Girl wrote these letters to a younger girl when she was 12. Enjoy the sage and humorous advice of Florida.
Objectives: Friendship, Humor
How to be Human, Diary of an Autistic Girl Teacher Resource: With powerful words and pictures Florida chronicles in her notebook her journey to figure out how to read facial expressions, how to deal with bullies, make friends and find joy in a social world. This book is, quite literally the manual for learning social skills and the free curriculum guide is packed with all the games and activities you need to learn how to live in that world.
Be a Social Spy: In order to encourage kids to pay attention to social cues, I give them “homework”: a list of questions for them to answer by observing their peers. You can also use this activity in group situations to build more understanding and social bonding
Objectives: Perspective taking, Recognizing body language, Social skills
More Social Skills Activities:
Emotion Cards from Autism Teaching Strategies
Friendship Activities from A to Z Teacher Stuff
Inside Out Teaching Emotions Activity from Surviving a Teacher Salary
Evidence-based games and exercises from Parenting Science
Twelve Games to Teach Students Social-Emotional Learning from PlayWorks
5 Great Activities to Do with Your Social Skills Group from Education and Behavior