Practice makes perfect

I would love to be able to coach kids all day every day but the reality is that my role has limitations. Kids are in school for much of their day and with siblings or parents for way more hours than I could ever provide. I was recently writing a behavior plan to support a middle schooler to practice peer interactions and realized, I am happy to give away the strategies that I think will be helpful to encourage this practice.

Here you go!

  1. In a structured interaction with one peer and one coach (parent or other adult provider), the coach models verbal communication that encourages sharing and positive interaction such as “I” statements and statements that express curiosity about the other person.

  2. The coach models non-verbal communication that encourages sharing and positive interaction such as thumbs up, nodding, or face gaze.

  3. The coach notices when either peer is doing well with noticing things about her peer’s communication. If possible without disrupting the interaction, point out this success to them in the moment, such as “Jane you noticed that she needed a napkin. That was really kind of you to give her one.” Do this for both partners.

  4. When the coach notices a mistake or missed opportunity for either child, state what you observed in a neutral tone. Provide time and space for the child to create a repair or alternate communication. For example, if Sue goes to the kitchen for a napkin for herself but doesn’t bring one back for anyone else, simply state, “Neither of us have a napkin.” DO NOT provide a direct cue to Sue such as “you forgot a napkin for us, please bring one.” The reason for this is that almost always, kids can follow explicit directions. What they have trouble with is reading the situation to know what they should be doing in relation to the other person. By having the coach practice pointing out what they missed, they first strengthens their own ability to notice these things and then strengthen their responses to what they notices. They create their own solutions based on their experience and are more likely to use them without needing prompting in the future.

  5. Provide structured activities that encourage collaboration such as cooking (Jane gets the ingredients while the peer reads the recipe) , creating projects (Sue holds the objects while a peer tapes them together), or creating a performance (Jane plays piano, peer sings).

  6. Document the process of collaboration through photos or brief videos.

  7. At the end of the project, the coach takes 5 or so minutes to reflect on the process with the peers. Each person says one thing that they remember/enjoyed/found interesting about the process. Discuss any discrepancies in experience to point out the different perspectives represented.

  8. 2-3 days following the structured peer interaction, review the photos or video. Point out what you noticed that they did well in terms of communication and collaboration. If they had mistakes or missed opportunities, remind them that they did but that they resolved it. This resolution is key to encoding competence in the peer interactions.