Some children are born social butterflies. They attract friends, know what to say in any situation, have an uncanny sense of style, and always land on their feet. Then there are my kids – and maybe yours. Here are some tips on helping your child succeed in the study of all things social.
Help your child learn to make friends. Although we feel that friendships should happen naturally, finding friends is a skill that can be taught. There is a wealth of information available on this subject. A great source is the online ADDitude Magazine, which has a whole section on Friendships and Social Life. Surf around for some great stories and advice. My favorite book on the subject remains Good Friends Are Hard to Find: Help Your Child Find, Make and Keep Friends. It’s got very practical advice and step by step instructions on forming friendships.
Make sure your child’s clothes are in style. A couple of years ago we went to Washington DC , and school groups were everywhere. We stood in line at the National Archives in front of a relatively well behaved group of middle schoolers. As we waited (and waited), I noticed a family approaching, a mom, dad, and a middle school young man. Bless his heart, that poor child had on the most horrible, out of style clothes I think I have ever seen. His too short pants were tightly belted ABOVE his waist, his shirt was buttoned up and had a terrible pattern on it. He wore black tennis shoes like my grandmother used to wear. Worse, though, was his demeanor. He held his head down, and had a haunted ‘who’s going to laugh at me next?’ look on his face. I braced myself as he passed the group of middle schoolers, but they thankfully didn’t make a scene.
This child’s clothing made him a target. Now, I know that we’re supposed to teach our children that looks aren’t everything, that it’s what on the inside that counts, that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I also know that most of us don’t allow our boys out of the house in pants that sag under their bottoms, or our girls to show 9 inches of their stomach. Why? It’s because of what people will think, and what they might DO or say. Face it. It DOES matter what our kids wear.
You may be like me – fashion challenged yourself. I take a friend with me shopping. When I’m buying stuff for my boys, I sometimes ask the cute little shop girl, “Is this an okay shirt?” I’ve sent my boys with money and a fashion and finance conscious adult, and instructions to “Hit the clearance racks first.” I’ve bought lots of clothing on Ebay. (Sometimes people sell an entire wardrobe for CHEAP – so YOU don’t have to think about fashion or matching!) I copy mannequins, too. And believe it or not, I sometimes watch, “What Not To Wear”.
If our kids are already socially uneasy, we owe it to them to help them dress so that they aren’t lightning rods for ridicule. When kids make fun, our kids feel more insecure, which lowers their confidence, which makes them more likely to be teased. It’s a sink hole. I’m not talking about outfitting junior in the latest fads or brand names. (I’m WAY to cheap for that.) But we need to have our children in passably ‘normal’ clothing. I’m not much on clothesline preaching, but I’m pounding the pulpit on this one.
Teach your child some manners! What do you say when you meet someone for the first time? How do you introduce a friend to a parent, or a parent to a teacher? How do you say thank you after a visit? How do you say thank you for a gift you don’t like?! What do you say when you’re inviting someone to a party? How do you ask for someone on the phone? These are important lessons for our kids, and you may need to practice them.
Role play, for example, meeting the teacher. “Hello, Mrs. Anders. I’m Mrs. Smith, and this is my son Ryan.” “Hello, Ryan.” Teach Ryan to look the teacher directly in her eye and say, “Hello, how are you?” If you want him to shake hands, let him practice. We’ve practiced the whole routine of being presented a certificate by an adult. “As you approach the presenter, reach out with your right hand to shake hands. Take the award in your left hand and say thank you.” Instruction and practice give your child confidence in such situations.
Need help? You’re not alone! I told the story last spring about a meal Ash and I shared with two very ‘cultured’ friends of mine. Although my friends were gracious enough to ignore the fact, Ash demonstrated that he had no table manners. He chewed with his mouth closed and didn’t burp or scratch, but that was about it. He reached across the table for bread, complained about what he was served, made nervous conversation… It was our fault; as he was the last child, my husband and I had never really paid much attention to his ‘company’ manners.
We’ve set out to change that. I bought a book for the boys called, Stand Up, Shake Hands, Say How Do You Do: What Boys Need to Know About Today’s Manners. It’s okay, and teaches some really good points, but it’s dated. I’m getting ready to buy two more, hoping to cover all our bases. The first one, Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers will be useful when my boys launch themselves into society. It’s pretty high brow, but I learned the hard way that there are occasions when our boys need the “know how of high brow”. The second one, How Rude!: The Teenagers’ Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out, is an irreverent guide to manners, which my guys will enjoy, I’m sure. One caution on this book is its casual approach to teenage sex.