|Anyone involved in helping children develop social skills – whether parent, teacher, or therapist – quickly realizes that broad and abstract instructions are not helpful, and often counterproductive. Phrases such as “be more open,” “follow their lead,” or “put more of yourself into it” are certainly not helpful for literal thinkers. And so that leads to instruction in social pragmatics: the micro-steps involved in daily communication: reading facial expressions, perceiving emotions, and using body language.
These skills are the seeds of emotional intelligence.
Helping children understand social conventions requires us to discover habits and perceptions that we use unconsciously. Just how do we know that someone is disappointed, by looking at her face? How does a person’s posture indicate to us that he is seeking approval? How can we tell when that hand on the shoulder is meant to be a gesture of friendly support, rather than a stern reminder?
In all our social interactions, we are constantly translating people’s expressions, movements, and vocal tones. We are also conveying massive amounts of information to others: what we think, feel, and intend. Even in the best of circumstances, when that information is conveyed without artifice or subterfuge, there is ample room for bewilderment.
Attempting to explain how to interpret social cues in rapidly evolving situations can seem particularly difficult. Suppose you have a withdrawn 8-year old boy who is having trouble making friends. You might suggest, “try smiling at the other boys.” But of course, you really can’t have an exact understanding of the situation in which that boy might remember your advice. Maybe another boy – the prospective friend – is so inattentive he doesn’t register the smile, or maybe he’s an emergent bully, and sees the smile as a sign of weakness.
In other words, it’s more complicated than it first appears. But should we give up? Of course not, but an appreciation of the difficulties helps keep us from being too abstract or universal in our coaching, and also helps us keep an empathic perspective toward the child we are trying to help. Here are some other things to keep in mind, when coaching the microskills of social communication:
|Practice Tests Work
Psychology researchers at Purdue University recently found that if students practice memory recall they will remember more than if they rely on other learning techniques. The researchers compared students that learned by using concept maps versus a second group that practiced retrieval. They found the students who practiced retrieval (such as taking practice tests) did significantly better in long-term retention tests.Teachers often rely on learning activities that encourage elaborate study routines and techniques focused on improving the encoding of information into memory. But, when students practice retrieval, they set aside the material they are trying to learn and instead practice calling it to mind.Concept mapping requires students to construct a diagram-typically using nodes or bubbles-that shows relationships among ideas, characteristics or materials. These concepts are then written down as a way of encoding them in a person’s memory. This technique is used extensively for learning about concepts in sciences such as biology, chemistry or physics.
In the Purdue study, total of 200 students studied texts on topics from different science disciplines. One group engaged in elaborative study using concept maps while a second group practiced retrieval; they read the texts, then put them away and practiced freely recalling concepts from the text.
After an initial study period, both groups recalled about the same amount of information. But when the students returned to the lab a week later to assess their long-term learning, the group that studied by practicing retrieval showed a 50 percent improvement in long-term retention above the group that studied by creating concept maps.
This, despite the students’ own predictions about how much they would actually remember. “Students do not always know what methods will produce the best learning,” noted one researcher, in discussing whether students are good at judging the success of their study habits.
|Ask Dr. Cox|
Q. You’ve written a lot about kids needing some type of job or what you call “purposeful work.” Can you be more specific about what that is and when my son should start with something like this?
Valerie S., Rye, NY
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