Asking hypotheticals to teach social skills means asking children open-ended questions and discussing answers based on their scenarios. In our house, we call this the “what if” game.
Let’s say you have a four-year-old that is always taking small things that don’t belong to them from preschool and playdates, asking hypotheticals would be asking what they would do in similar scenarios. This might be, “what would you do if you and a friend were the last two people in the classroom, and your friend wanted you to take candy off the teacher’s desk?” or, “what would you do if you were at Jenny’s house, and she had four new sets of stick-on earrings. You really want just one pair, and you ask, but she says ‘no’?”
Be prepared that your child might offer up some bad answers like taking all the candy or stealing two pairs since Jenny had four. The bad answers provide an opportunity to explore outcomes by asking, “what if the teacher kept everyone in from recess the next day because she noticed the missing candy?” or, “what if Jenny’s mom came to our house to ask for the earrings back?” Another way to follow up bad answers is to try for better ones by saying, “well, that would get you in trouble. Can you think of a better answer?” or, “what would be a thing to do that would keep you out of trouble?” or, “can you think of a way to ask for permission?”
You might also go for the best answers from the start by rephrasing, “what would be a good thing to do when….” Either way, you might end the conversation by finding three better ways to answer. This might take some input on your part.
The idea is to get the child thinking about their behaviors when all is well and finding better ways to make choices when their triggers are present.
To learn more about this and other ways to teach social skills, you might listen to my free online workshop about Teaching Children Social Skills at http://parentingplaygroups.com/MemberResources/index.php/welcome/ and clicking Listen to a Free Workshop.
Children’s books that include or are about decision making:
I Did It, I’m Sorry by Buehner
What If Everybody Did That by Javernick
How Full Is Your Bucket for Kids by Rath
The Choose Your Own Adventure series by Packard and others
Making Choices and Making Friends by Espeland