top of page

How Kids Learn Social Skills

How does your kid process social information? A study from the Conduct Problems Prevention Research group may have found the answer!

In a study of over 300 participants, researchers identified five distinct steps children will go through while interacting with others (Dodge, Laird, Lockman & Zelli, 2002).


Emotional Processing


Essentially, your child will first seek to understand the emotions of the moment. Is it a serious moment? Is it a funny moment?

Some kids have a hard time understanding the emotions of others around them, it can be helpful to take the time to explain how a person might be feeling based on their facial expressions and body language.

Intent Attributions


Your child will wonder, “Why did they do that?”

Sometimes children will have a tendency to assume that the reason behind everything is to get them in trouble or to hurt them. This is called hostile attribution bias. In this case it can be helpful to talk about all the possible reasons that could be behind an action or event.

Social Goals


Your kid will wonder, “What are they trying to do? What am I trying to do?”

Sometimes kids will have a hard time distinguishing between what they know the right goal is and what they want to do (e.g. “Being nice” is a better goal than “beating up my brother”).

Response Generation


This is when your child will start coming up with options of responses they can make.

Sometimes they’ll only consider one option, sometimes they’ll consider more. It’s largely dependent on the situation and the goals they’ve established.

Response Evaluation


This is when your child makes a decision. They’ll decide there’s enough merit behind one of the responses they’ve generated and they’ll take action based on this.

Sometimes it can be hard for a child to carry out an action, especially if it’s something as large as standing up to a bully at school. Be sure to support your kids and help them carry out their goals. You can ask them, “What do you think needs to be done?” and then structure a goal plan from there. Kids can often need guidance to see how things will work or how feasible a plan is. There’s a tactic called “scaffolding” that is particularly effective with older kids (age 8-12). Children will plan out an action and carry it out as much as they can will the support and guidance of the adults around them. The adults’ job here is mostly to guide and offer options and help with setbacks.



Dodge, K. A., Laird, R., Lochman, J. E., & Zelli, A. (2002) Multidimensional Latent-Construct Analysis of Children’s Social Information Processing Patterns: Correlations with Aggressive Behavior Problems . Psychol Assess. 14(1), 60-73.

bottom of page