Studies of successful people demonstrate that good social skills, not top grades, are most strongly associated with future success. A child with a high “social IQ” has acquired the skills necessary to make and maintain relationships. This child instinctively knows how to get along easily with others, has high self-esteem, actively listens when spoken to, and resolves conflicts using nonviolent means.
Many assume that all children learn how to get along with each other simply by observing the interactions of others in their environment. Parents, teachers and other adults in a child’s life model social behavior and offer feedback about what is acceptable and unacceptable, and the child catches on. But this is not an A + B = C equation for many children. To them, understanding calculus is easier than recognizing and responding to the body language and facial expressions of a classmate. Play during free time on the playground, in the gym or in the neighborhood relieves stress for the socially adept child; however, these less-structured activities can be extremely painful for the child who has undeveloped social abilities. Without positive social outlets for stress, these children are left with few tools for dealing with the challenges of childhood and beyond. Try as they may to imitate socially appropriate behavior, they still feel disconnected from others.
Cathi Cohen developed Stepping Stones in 1990 to help these children. After years of working one-on-one with children to help them with their social skills, she found this method limited in its effectiveness. For children to change their social behavior, they need to learn and practice the skills in groups with other children who have similar challenges, as well as practice the skills at home with their parents.