Developing Social Skills in Pre Teens & Teens: An Interview with School & Child Psychologist Noa Kanter
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do at Linden?
My work at Linden is very diverse, since my qualifications and education are in both clinical and educational psychology. I conduct psycho-educational assessments with children and teenagers, and therapeutic work with children and their families. I also provide counseling support to staff members who work in international schools, and of course, I run the Social Skills Groups for teens and pre teens at Linden. I believe psychological support should consider key people in a child’s life. This includes the immediate family and friends, the neighborhood, school, etc. When working with children from international backgrounds, we need to take into consideration the various societal and cultural norms and expectations influencing the child and his/her family. I see my work as trying to support key players in a child’s world by emphasizing strengths and combining them in an organic way. Linden is the perfect place for me to learn and develop professionally, especially in the fields of bilingualism, inclusion and international schools, and I believe that what this organization represents is the unique potential of diversity to enhance the well-being of children around the world.
What is your approach with children?
My approach first is to understand what it is the family and the child want to change. After the initial meeting, I evaluate the situation and use current evidence-based research findings and my own experiences to design a framework for intervention. I give feedback to the parents and discuss with them possible ways to intervene and their possible outcomes. Together, we come up with a plan and set goals. It is very important to constantly re-evaluate these goals in collaboration with the parent and the child. We are all partners in this! Parents know their child the best, so it is always very important for me to put a great deal of emphasis on working with them and helping them gain tools to better support their children. I believe in involving teachers in the process as well. It is also very important for me to identify other possible areas of support or refer the family to other types of support, whether it is occupational therapy coaching or psychiatrists within or outside Linden. I believe that it is important to provide a thorough support system.
You run the Social Skills Group at Linden. Could you tell us a little bit about these sessions? What are your favorite techniques that the kids get to learn there?
I’m a great fan of group work when we choose very concrete goals. Groups are fun and provide continuous feedback, and a chance to practice skills. The Social Skills Group is based on a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach. Each session starts with a theme and we talk about very specific skills. For example, we talk about how to start a conversation, how to identify common interests, how to choose good friends, and so on. These skills are very central to the lives of 10 to 16-year-olds. During each session, we discuss a few guidelines about a specific skill and see if we all agree about these guidelines. We practice these social skills and discuss how we feel about them and how others may feel. This instantly creates a more welcoming, non-judgmental environment, and allows children to work through their experiences in the social world in a fun playful way. After every session, kids receive homework so that they can practise and test their social skills at home or school. I find it very important to update the parents about the things we learn and terms we use, so that they know what the children are practicing. Parents become “social coaches” to their children.
Is the Social Skills group only for kids with Autism?
No, it is not only for kids with autism. I do try to teach in a highly structured way that helps kids or teenagers with ASD learn about the world. However, these skills are helpful for those not on the spectrum and struggle in social situations as well. The program encourages decision making, problem solving, boosts confidence and teaches social skills relevant to broad range of children. The program is suitable for all teens and pre teens motivated to positively change the way they interact with their peers.
How can parents use the skills the kids learn at home?
Parents receive weekly handouts that summarize what we learned that week in our group session. It’s very important that the parents learn the language we use in the group so that they can also act as a “coach” at home. I also meet with the parents about halfway through the 10-week program to reevaluate the process and goals and how we can improve our work together.
Do you have any favorite apps, books, videos or resources to support children that might be struggling with socializing?
One of my favorite books is “The Science of Making Friends” by Prof. Elizabeth Laugeson from UCLA. It presents very simple principles and techniques to implement, and this would be my first book to recommend to parents, but I do recommend combining the book with active practice and feedback.