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Teaching Social Skills to Kids Who Struggle With Siblings

Part 2: A conversation guide to build social understanding and new skills

This post is Part 2 of a 2-part conversation between a mother and a young man named Chris, who struggles to understand the social nuances of playing video games with his brothers. Below, Chris' mother wraps up an insight-oriented conversation, helping Chris understand the problem situation and learn the skills needed to prevent it from re-occurring. Click here to read Part 1 of the conversation.

Step 3: Understand the Problem: Recognize that Chris’ intentions (to play with his brothers) were good, but the way he went about approaching them (stealing Mike’s game controller) was unwise.

Mom: Well, that’s one idea for how to handle things with Mike. Is it okay if I run a different idea by you?

Chris: Sure. Do you want to take the Xbox away from Eddie too?

Mom: Not exactly. I’m thinking about something that might help all of you have more fun playing video games and even get to higher levels.

Chris: Well that would be good if you could make that happen.

Mom: Better yet, I think you can make it happen! To start sharing my idea, I’m just going to say back to you what I heard you tell me. Sometimes when you hear someone else talk about what happened, you realize new things.

Chris: Okay.

Mom: So, you told me that today was a good day for you overall and you were feeling pretty happy when you got home. Last night, you figured out how to get to the next level in a game on Xbox and so when you saw Mike and Eddie playing, you were excited to show them the new moves. You thought the new information about the game could really help them. All good so far?

Chris: Yep, all good.

Mom: You were kind enough to bring your brothers drinks, which I am sure they appreciated, then you sat down and watched Mike play. You were giving him little tips here and there while he played. You told me that you thought he needed the tips but you also said that Mike told you that your talking distracted him from playing. Is that right?

Chris: Yes.

Mom: Thank you for going through this with me. You are being so focused. When you hear this part of the story—the part where you were trying to help Mike but he found your help distracting—does it make you realize anything?

Chris: That he should be better at listening and not getting distracted.

Mom: (Laughs) It would be nice if all of us could do two things at once, but that’s pretty hard to do. Does it make you realize anything else?

Chris: (Pauses. Looks confused at first, then responds). Maybe I shouldn’t have talked while he was playing? Maybe the way I was trying to help him didn’t end up being all that helpful?

Mom: (Gently) That’s a really smart thing for you to realize, Chris. I think you may be right. I think your heart was in the right place and you were trying to help Mike get to the next level—and I’m really proud of you for that! When you boys work together, you are unstoppable! I think you are also right, though, when you say that your kind of help ended up not being very helpful. In fact, it distracted him and made him upset.

Chris: That’s not how I meant it!

Mom: I realize that, honey. For years I’ve been trying to get you, Mike and Eddie to be kind and help each other out. Today, you did that—you were trying to help him get to the next level on his video game. That’s just the kind of thing that I want. The only problem was the kind of help you gave. Giving him tips while he was playing ended up distracting him.

Chris: I guess.

Mom: The good news is that I can help you figure out more helpful ways to help Mike. That’s actually the easy part in all of this!

Chris: There’s one more part of the story you are forgetting.

Mom: What’s that?

Chris: I grabbed his controller and he got really mad about that.

Mom: Right. Remind me—what were you hoping to have happen when you grabbed the controller?

Chris: I was trying to play for him since he wouldn’t listen to me.

Mom: You were trying to help again…

Chris: But I did it in a way that didn’t end up actually being helpful, since I accidentally killed his player. It was sort of his fault, though! He was screaming at me and I couldn’t concentrate.

Mom: He was making so much noise while you were playing that you got distracted.

Chris: Yeah! (Pauses). I guess I know how he felt when I was talking during his game.

Mom: Right. Wow. I think you’ve really realized a lot here, Chris. I think you have a whole new understanding of how sometimes a good idea can go wrong. And maybe you understand a little bit more about why Mike was feeling so mad.

Chris: Yep.

Step 4: TEACH Chris the new social skills he needs to be successful in future situations.

Mom: Now, we just need to talk about how to keep this kind of thing from happening again the next time you play video games with someone else. Do you have any thoughts on how your help can be more helpful?

Chris: Well, one thing I could do is tell Mike to pause the game so that he can listen to my tips without getting distracted.

Mom: Waiting until the game is paused before you talk will give you the chance to help your brother, but in a way that doesn’t mess up his focus and concentration. I think that’s a great solution! Do you have any other ideas?

Chris: Maybe I could show him how to get to the next level when it’s my turn to play instead of talking and distracting him when it’s his turn?

Mom: Both of those are fantastic ideas, Chris! I think either one would work. Should we run some of your ideas by Mike and Eddie and see what they think might work?

Chris: That’s a good plan. They may have other ideas.

Mom: They might. I’m proud of you for realizing that and wanting to hear their thoughts.

Chris: Do you think Mike is going to punch me again?

Mom: I’m going to deal with the punching part. Let’s you and I talk to him about the video game part and see if we can make it so that no one is feeling angry anymore.

Chris: Sounds good. Thanks, Mom.

LSCI Skills in Practice

Not every child remembers to say ‘thank you’ after a taxing emotional conversation. The rewarding thing about the New Tools approach in working with kids like Chris is that they tend to be genuinely grateful to adults who help them understand where their right intentions went wrong.

NOTE: While the length of the conversation outlined above may be longer than your typical conversation with your child, understand that the level of detail is helpful to Chris, who, because of his deficits in social skills, needs his mother's help in connecting the dots. If Chris had verbalized frustration with the length of the conversation, his mother would have sensed his dismay and moved the conversation along. Don't be dismayed or discouraged by the conversation's length; we encourage you to learn from the structure and the key phrases used here but to always maintain your own authenticity in your interactions with a child.


Whitson, S. (2019). Parenting the Challenging Child: The 4-Step Way to Turn Problem Situations Into Learning Opportunities. Hagerstown, MD: The LSCI Institute.

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