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6 Steps To Teach Any Social Skill

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

A kid on the bus teased me when I was five by calling me a "curious cat."  It broke my heart at the time, but I guess not much has changed.


I am perpetually curious.  Every now and then I wish to live inside the brains of some individuals I admire just to examine how they view things.   I figure that if I grasp how they think, I can come up with some great new theories, creative strategies, inventive methodologies, and next-century breakthroughs.  Wouldn’t that be nice!


Until then, I visit my own brain.  I’ve been learning some interesting things from those observations.  One of the things I discovered was the 6 Simple Steps To Teach Any Social Skill!


A little over 20 years ago, Marilyn Nehls, a renowned educational and behavioral specialist, taught me the red & green traffic light idea for introducing behaviors.  This method was remarkably successful, and I found myself following the same six steps repeatedly.  I decided to take note of each of the steps in order to test the sequence and turn it into a foolproof technique so that anyone can replicate these steps and achieve the same results. Thus was born the Red & Green Learning system.


What is the process?


After showing a child a traffic light and explaining that just as the red light indicates stop, green light indicates go, and yellow light reminds us to slow down, every person has behaviors that need to red-stop, green-go (start, continue, or increase), and yellow-slow down.


What are these six simple steps?  Label, Picture, Model, Practice, Reinforce, Correct.  The beauty is in its simplicity!


  1. Label - coin a term for both the red and green behaviors or social concepts.  (Auditory sense)

  2. Picture - draw a picture or a visual aid that explains both the red and green behaviors. (Visual sense)

  3. Model - model or act out the red and green behavior so that the child can experience it with all his senses. (VAKT-visual, auditory, and kinesthetic - tactile senses)

  4. Practice - have the child practice role-playing both the red and the green. (VAKT again)

  5. Reinforce - reinforce with praise or rewards both the presence of green behaviors and the absence of reds.

  6. Correct - if necessary, correct or consequence recurring red behaviors.


How can you apply this information practically?


Does a child you know grab things?  Here is how you would apply the six steps:

  1. Label:  Coin the behaviors of "grabbing" is red vs. "asking permission" is green.

  2. Picture:  Draw a green picture (stick figures are fine) of a child asking permission, and a red picture of a child grabbing.

  3. Model:  Use puppets or dolls to model grabbing and asking permission.  Ask your student to point to the picture and guess which behavior you are modeling each time you act out a behavior.

  4. Practice: Have the child role-play a behavior while you guess which behavior the child just performed.

  5. Reinforce:  Casually praise and reinforce the student for doing green behaviors.  You might say “Excellent asking for the soda and not grabbing it.”

  6. Correct:  If the child continues to grab despite that you did the previous five steps, you may need to correct the behavior by having the child practice the correct green behavior of asking permission.  A sample correction might be doing a positive practice (5 or 10 times) in which the child walks around the room, reaches out to grab an item but quickly pulls her hand back and says “Stop, it’s not mine.  May I please have that soda/cellphone/marker/pen, etc.?

Try it!  It works.

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