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We all want children to be able to function well in social groups, and various social skills training programmes are available for children for whom this is a challenge. Studies have already proven these training programmes to be effective in general, and UvA scientists have now discovered what specific elements determine the success of such training programmes.

Social skills and a lack thereof

Children who are very shy or are very dominant may have trouble fitting in with a group. In either case, lacking certain social skills can have a significant impact, potentially resulting in bullying at school, depression, problem behaviour or even criminal behaviour. These children in particular can greatly benefit from social skills training.

Numerous social skills training (SST) programmes teach children specific social behaviour or try to correct behaviour. For example, children can be taught how to deal with bullying behaviour or how to establish social contacts and make friends. These training programmes often consist of various components, such as transferring knowledge or practising skills. As such, training programmes can differ in terms of both their format and their content.

We have already learned from previous studies that social skills training can have positive effects, but it was not yet clear exactly what components of a training programme were responsible for this. In collaboration with colleagues from Radboud University and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, UvA researchers have used a meta-analysis to identify the components that make such training programmes successful. This knowledge can be used to improve training programmes by excluding those components that do not contribute to children's positive development.

Studying the effects of social skills training

Although the effectiveness of SST programmes has already been studied at length, the effectiveness of individual training components had largely been ignored. That is why UvA scientists decided to focus on which specific components made SST programmes for children and adolescents effective, which makes them one of the first research teams to establish a link between the different training components and the positive effect of SST programmes.

Specifically, the team looked at programmes for children and adolescents in non-clinical settings. For example, many schools offer SST programmes for children with mild or emerging behavioural problems. The team looked at 60 of these programmes and focused on the following components:

  • psychoeducation: exercises focused on transferring knowledge;
  • psychophysical components: physical exercises that increase self-confidence and trust in others;
  • interpersonal skills components: exercises that improve interpersonal skills;
  • cognitive-emotional components: exercises that aim to change emotions and cognitions (ways of thinking).

The results of the analysis

The researchers discovered that social skills training programmes had a positive effect on the development of interpersonal and socio-emotional skills:

  • Training programmes that featured psychoeducation (knowledge transfer) were more effective in improving interpersonal and socio-emotional skills than programmes without psychoeducation.
  • Physical exercises that aim to increase self-confidence and trust in others were found not to affect the positive effect of programmes. The number of exercises that aim to change emotions and cognitions likewise did not affect programmes' effectiveness.

The team also discovered that the positive effect depends on the correct dosage of exercises included in the programme: 

  • Training programmes with three to six psychoeducation exercises had better results than programmes with more or fewer such exercises.
  • Training programmes with 11 to 20 exercises to improve skills had better results than programmes with more or fewer such exercises.

Conclusion

The researchers conclude that psychoeducational components and interpersonal skills components result in more successful SST programmes, given the correct number of exercises.

Read the scientific article

Brechtje de Mooij, Minne Fekkes, Ron H. J. Scholte, & Geertjan Overbeek (2020). Effective Components of Social Skills Training Programs for Children and Adolescents in Nonclinical Samples: A Multilevel Meta‑analysis. Journal of Clinical Child and Family Psychology Reviewhttps://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-019-00308-x

Ms L.S. (Brechtje) de Mooij

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Preventive Youth Care

prof. dr. G.J. (Geertjan) Overbeek

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Preventive Youth Care