Effective social behavior is fundamental to living life. Caring about others, getting involved with others, recognizing friendship, and appreciating intimacy are important parts of our lives. We need connection with other humans, and social activity is foundational to health and happiness.

Many different parts of the brain are involved in social interactions. We need attention, perception, and memory to recognize others, recall what we already know about them, and remember our past interactions with them. We also need emotion to interpret our feelings related to others and to infer the intentions of others. Motor and language skills come into play as we learn to respond in socially appropriate ways.

The beauty of the brain is that it is trainable. Parents can help children practice social skills as a way to improve social behaviors. Practice changes the firing and wiring of the social brain, which in turn changes social behaviors. Children can learn new ways of acting and reacting in social situations by seeing something done the right way, hearing it, practicing it, and then walking through it in multiple situations. If necessary, the process of a situation can be deconstructed, so each small part can be practiced. Then the pieces of the situation can be put back together again and practiced as a whole.

For example, if your child is going to ride the bus for the first time or join a new group of kids in an organized activity, he or she will be meeting new friends. You can help by role playing and acting out what the situation will likely require. Make believe you are a new friend. Have your child say hello and then practice what might happen next. Help your child practice alternative ways of responding, depending on the situation.

Social behavior definitely has a neurological component, and it is possible to improve the brain’s social neurology. As your child’s social skills develop, help your child practice effective social behaviors.