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Teaching Social Skills Through Games – Series Two: Patience

Close-up of children playing together in a social group

Close-up of children playing together in a social group

Whether in line at the store, sharing common materials or holding a conversation between friends, one must wait their turn always and everywhere when other people are involved.

Games are no exception. The nice thing about teaching the skill of waiting one’s turn during game play is that, yet again, the structure makes for a safe space. The rules and expectations are explicit, giving learners some stability to rely on.

Increasing ones ability to wait and establishing patience is a lesson that will serve learners not only in game play, but through their life. Following are some modifications we make at East Side Social to support our learners in developing patience while learning to wait.

  • Use a timer. If individual turns themselves are less structured for a given game an additional rule allotting a specific time to respond, paired with the use of a visual timer, may be introduced. The rule, repetition and visual availability of the seconds ticking by serve to decrease anxiety by providing a predictable routine.This frees up learner’s resources to attend to game play and peer interactions rather than spending their energy engaging in behavior that may historically be associated with anxiety and / or waiting for unspecified periods of time.
  • Systematically increase the amount of time a player has to wait. Per usual, our aim is success. Keeping this in mind we want to start with a period of time we know is manageable for the learners we are working with. Wait time may be reduced by actually setting a shorter time period for players to complete their turns, or by reducing the number of players so that individual learners don’t have to multiply the set wait time by too high a number.As learners show success at achieving initial goals, turn time may be expanded and additional players may be added to the game.
  • Provide a visual support for turn taking. Providing  ordered pictures of each player, or simply by writing player names on a white board, you can help learners to see the pattern of play. Use a token to move through the pattern as each player takes their turn so learners can predict where they fit in the pattern and when their turn will be up.Help learners attend to the movement of the game (e.g., clockwise play), so they can begin to see the pattern in the positioning of other players.
  • Have ‘fidgets’ available. Not all of our learners have the dexterity to twiddle their thumbs or engage in the subtle fidgeting behavior that can serve to calm most people when adrenaline begins to rise. Because of this we some times provide fidget toys to give learners a passive activity to engage in while they attend to the game and wait their turn.Rules should be established for fidget toys so that they remain ‘fidgets’ and do not become ‘distractors’ for the learners or their peers.Teaching learners to keep fidgets in their hands, close to their bodies and to keep their eyes on the game play are skills that will need to be supported throughout their use.
  • Provide behavior specific praise and, if needed, additional reinforcement for waiting for longer and longer periods in more and more varied scenarios. A simple acknowledgement of the effort a learner is putting in to maintain their cool can go a long way in increasing their practice of patience.Let them know how much fun it is to play with them when they do such a nice job waiting their turn, and don’t be hesitant to provide a high five or have snacks available during play if they need a little extra encouragement.
  • Lose the rules. Our aim is always to support our learners in using the skills we teach in their natural environment. In this example, if we have provided additional support by adding new rules regarding play time, incorporating a visual timer or setting artificial limits to the numbers of players, we want to systematically increase turn times, the number of players, overall variability, and fade out any visual supports.And while praise and attention for waiting ones turn may be frequent when the learner first begin to establish the skill of waiting, we want to systematically decrease this reinforcement until it resembles a typical interaction for this type of game. We continue to do so until the overall play emulates the actual play of a given game as it would be found in any other situation.Such an approach allows the skill of waiting, and the practice of patience, to be maintained by the natural contingencies of the game, as opposed to the supports we put in place to instill them.
  • Expand the players repertoire. Generalization of skills more often than not must be taught. This is done by supporting learners in using skills established with one person, in one setting or with one game with novel people, in novel settings and with novel games.Continue to increase the variability of these three elements, participants, setting and stimuli/game/activity, until you see the established skill is in tact without supports in at least a few different novel arrangements.
  • Most importantly, have fun! Be playful in the process of play and have confidence that with some relatively minor manipulations your goal is achievable.

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Give us a call at 917-680-5805,
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