Ep. 43: Building Social Competence and Enhancing Social Skills with Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson

Aug 17, 2021 | 0 comments

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, our children and teens were faced with a huge transition. But now that schools are slated to reopen fully this fall, they are faced with yet another transition. Today’s discussion is a wonderful gift for parents who may be concerned about their teens reentering in-person schooling, especially if they have social challenges.

On the show today is Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, founder and director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic dedicated to providing parent-assisted social skills training. The best part about PEERS and Dr. Laugeson’s work is that it is evidence-based, which means that research shows it works to help young people have more successful social interactions. 


Right now, many students are anxious and may not feel equipped to deal with the social demands of returning to school. They have been safely tucked away at home learning behind a screen and keyboard. So what can we do as parents and caregivers to better prepare our teens for the unique social demands of adolescence after a pandemic? Listen on for Dr. Laugeson’s examples, strategies, and even the language for teens to use when in different social situations.


Show Notes:

[2:48] – For many, online learning was a struggle but for some, it was a gift.

[3:25] – Because of the pandemic, kids have been socially isolated. We need to teach them friendship making skills.

[4:15] – Parents need to think about where their kids are going to make friends. Extracurricular activities provide opportunities to connect with kids with similar interests.

[5:51] – A lot of parents want to get their kids away from gaming and screens, but Dr. Laugeson has a different approach.

[7:06] – Dr. Laugeson explains that some teenagers will revert back to parallel play which doesn’t develop relationships.

[8:37] – How should teens initiate initial conversation? Dr. Laugeson creates a scenario and how socially successful people initiate interactions.

[11:00] – We tend to get a feeling based on others’ behaviors that we are accepted into an interaction. Some teens struggle to read these cues.

[12:33] – We need to help our kids by instructing them how to engage rather than just putting them into social situations.

[13:24] – As kids build up social competence, they gain confidence and feel less social anxiety.

[15:17] – Dr. Laugeson is the founder and director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic and she explains what the program is about and how it started.

[16:19] – PEERS is evidence-based which is very important in social skills training.

[17:54] – Parents need to be “smart consumers” when it comes to finding mental health services and social skills groups for their children.

[19:23] – Parents and caregivers are educated on what their teens in social skills programs need to work on to be successful.

[21:35] – Bullying rates are high and are particularly high for students with learning differences.

[22:56] – The common advice to those being bullied is to ignore, walk away, or tell an adult. Dr. Laugeson explains why these strategies do not work.

[24:18] – The reality is every kid gets teased. It is the reaction you have that determines if you are socially successful.

[25:03] – Dr. Laugeson discusses what actually does work when being teased.

[26:35] – When it comes to rumors and gossip, every instinct we naturally have is wrong.

[28:52] – What needs to happen instead, is to take control of the rumor. Act amazed that anyone would believe or care about that rumor.

[30:04] – Dr. Laugeson describes the “spread the rumor about yourself” strategy.

[31:47] – In addition to helping students with strategies, Dr. Laugeson also provides examples and non-examples as well as effective language to use in situations.

[33:52] – One of the first steps in changing reputation is to lay low for a while. Because of the pandemic, everyone has been laying low. Dr. Laugeson gives the steps in changing one’s reputation.

[36:00] – Entering school again is a great opportunity for a fresh start.


About Our Guest:

Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute and is a licensed clinical psychologist. Dr. Laugeson is the Founder and Director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic, which is an outpatient hospital-based program providing parent-assisted social skills training for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other social impairments from preschool to adulthood. She is also the Training Director for the UCLA Tarjan Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and Program Director for Dissemination, Outreach, and Education at the prestigious UCLA Autism Center of Excellence. Having trained thousands of mental health professionals, educators, and families in the PEERS method, Dr. Laugeson is dedicated to developing and testing evidence-based treatments to improve social skills across the lifespan, and disseminating these empirically supported programs across the globe. As one of the only empirically supported social skills programs for youth with autism, her program is currently in over 70 countries and has been translated into over a dozen languages.

Connect with Dr. Laugeson:

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The Diverse Thinking Different Learning podcast is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or legal advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Additionally, the views and opinions expressed by the host and guests are not considered treatment and do not necessarily reflect those of ChildNEXUS, Inc or the host, Dr. Karen Wilson.