One day my daughter was on a play date, and she came running in crying that someone had made fun of her ponytails. My daughter’s ponytails are more like cotton puffs, but we both knew that her ponytails were a special hairdo. I asked her if she liked them. She tearfully said “yes” I told her if she liked them then she needed to tell her friend. I asked her was she proud of them? She said “yes” so I told her to hold her head high and tell her friend that fact. My daughter went back in the room with her friends and announced to the other child “I like my ponytails!” The child said “okay,” and they went on to play. Later in the day, we were on yet another play date. (It was a busy day.) I overheard my daughter telling another child who had made fun of her dress, “I like my dress,” using the same proud tone. This situation provided an example of the social skills learning process.

First, there was direct training, then independent use of the skills, and finally generalization to another similar situation. When a skill is applied to another situation, the process is called generalization. I taught my daughter not just what to say, but how to say it. I built up her confidence by reminding her of her attachment to her ponytails. I instructed her in the tone of voice to use, the amount of eye contact to administer, and set the tone for body gestures (confidence).The second component that my daughter did beautifully was that she took what I said in one situation and applied it to a new situation. For many children and adults generalization is the most complex and difficult component of learning.