Provide Opportunities for Youth to Learn and Practice Cognitive and Interpersonal Skills

Provide Opportunities for Youth to Learn and Practice Cognitive and Interpersonal Skills

Many factors influence the development of children’s social competence. Family relations and parenting skills interventions are more effective when they include content for youth that helps them: a) build cognitive skills to process and apply information about other people and social situations, and b) acquire particular interpersonal skills necessary for positive interactions with others.

It may be important to nurture both cognitive and interpersonal skills (see below) – for example, even if a child has the interpersonal skills to start a conversation and work cooperatively in a peer group, if she lacks the cognitive skills needed to identify a problem situation, think of alternative ways to deal with it, and consider the likely outcomes of each option, then she may be less likely to respond to challenging situations productively.

Cognitive skills. Consider emphasizing the development of cognitive skills such as the problem-solving sequence and cognitive restructuring to overcome negative thoughts.2 Learning the steps involved in solving a problem can help children manage difficult family or peer issues, giving them the tools to find positive alternatives to a problem. This in turn can reduce their frustration and feelings of isolation, which increases the likelihood of peer acceptance and positive social interactions. Cognitive restructuring helps children find adaptive ways to cope with adverse events such as a divorce, helping them dispel common misconceptions and change irrational beliefs about their role in the event that otherwise may manifest in anger and associated problem behaviors.

Interpersonal skills. Focus interpersonal skills content on communication skills with family and peers, friendship skills, peer interaction skills, and how to cooperate with and support others. Family and parenting interventions have the best chance at improving these skills by teaching them directly to children, whether through individual therapy or through their parents who are appropriately trained and supported by a therapist or parenting skills provider.


  • Problem-solving sequence for resolving interpersonal problems:
    1.Identify the problem
    2.Brainstorm possible solutions
    3.Anticipate consequences of different solutions
    4.Evaluate solutions and try the best alternative
    5.Decide if the solution worked
  • Conflict Resolution


  • General interpersonal communication skills (e.g., active listening, giving and receiving feedback).
  • Family communication and relationships (e.g., how to ask for what you need from a parent).
  • Making friends and engaging in teamwork.
  • Peer communication, peer relationships, peer group interaction.
  • Prosocial behavior (voluntarily helping, sharing, cooperating with others).

2 Cognitive restructuring refers to a person learning how to identify and change negative or irrational thought processes that inhibit one’s ability to have positive, functional social interactions and relationships.