I've been really examining my 9 y.o. son's social skills deficits and I've concluded that his biggest problem is a lack of entry skills. Once engaged with kids, particuarly with an old friend, his behavior is appropriate. He can negotiate, play games, lose games etc well enough. But he is very self conscious when approaching or being approached by anyone that isn't already an established friend. (There's a group of boys that play cards each morning in his class and he would like to join in, but claims that he can't because he doesn't know the game. )
He was in a social skills group before which definitely helped his group skills, but obviously once he felt comfortable with those kids entry wasn't difficult anymore!
Any thoughts on how to help a child with this skill?
I have a friend who several years ago remarked that one big difference between her socially skilled daughter and her far less skilled son was her daughter's ability to join groups. She told me her daughter would stand or sit in close proximity to a group of kids for awhile and then find ways to join in without interupting the flow of play. I tried to use this information to help my own children but found that they just wouldn't get physically close to a group they felt like they didn't belong to. So I think part of it is a cognitive mindset--I don't belong.
I find inviting kids over to the house who are not close friends is a good way to work on these "entry" type skills. You can coach them before hand and stay around to coach for awhile. I always have some structured activities in mind too in case they sort of stand and look at each other.
If this is in the classroom, part of the school day, I'd talk to the teacher about making sure all who want to play the card game can play; if it's an informal freetime thing, every school has it's established cliques of kids and I think the kids have to sort it out themselves. You could try teaching him several games that are commonly played and coach him and a friend(it's easier with a friend) to ask if they could play. Give him lots of opportunities to join skill-based groups like soccer, baseball, chess club, scouts, etc. where kids(outside his small friendship group) are doing something while they're interacting. Many 3rd and 4th grade boys are not very smooth socially, and use silly tactics like jokes, physical humor, bragging etc. to break the ice and join a group.My 4th grade son is one of these joksters because it's not cool to show that you're very smart..we are working on this but many of his friends are just as bad!