While your child’s social skills might not be assessed on her latest report card or addressed in his most recent IEP, social intelligence matters. Some children are naturally chatty and comfortable conversing with adults or their peers while others painfully struggle thinking of anything natural to say. Think Charlie Brown and that cute little red-headed girl.
Think back to the socially awkward peers of your own class. Or maybe you were one of the ones who felt awkward – like I was. While most of us outgrow feeling clumsy, initiating certain activities with your child can ease them into their own social graces with a little less stumbling.
Like other life skills, social skills can be acquired and improved over time with practice and encouragement. Here are a few tips for coaxing out the inner social butterfly in your child:
Stealthily, she observes. Children don’t start playing with one another until at least age 3. Play groups before that age are either exercising your patience or allowing you to interact with other parents. After the age of three, your children’s group play can teach you a lot about how he fits in and interacts with others. Watch closely!
Practice makes almost perfect. Group play – whether it’s at pre-school, church or in your back yard – is something your child should participate in a good bit. Where else will she learn to take turns and share her toys? This point brings us to role playing.
You be you, and I’ll be… Role playing certain scenarios is like a piano student practicing scales. The exercise lumbers you up for the real thing. Scenarios like a peer not sharing or name calling are likely at some point in time. What will your child do when that happens? A child diagnosed with ADHD can easily react without thinking of consequences, but role playing promotes a bit of forethought and planning.
Ooops. Were you talking to me? An ADHD child may zone in and out of conversations depending on his level of interest and the topic at hand. Done enough times, other children may decide his friendship isn’t worth the trouble or worse, decide that she’s a good target for humiliation. Role playing conversations can help here. How do you introduce someone? What are good conversation starters? Can you follow what that person tells you with a follow-up question? (Read more on learning to flow with a conversation.)
Fashionista patrole. I’m all for a child expressing herself with fashion, as long as she’s not wearing something that will make her a target for teasing. I realize I’m dating myself, but for our era, wearing white socks with dress shoes or “high water” pants made you a nerd and socially unacceptable. Try gentle guidance here.
Be the host with the most. I know one family that upon moving into our neighborhood, the dad built a tree house and installed a zip line to attract kids to meet his kids. His plan worked beautifully. Sometimes the attraction may be the latest video game or a classic (AKA old) DVD or video. (“Holy horrors, Batman! Is that VHS??”) Or it could be a chance to make pizza or bake chocolate chip cookies together. A little creativity on your part can draw kids together. As the hosting parent, you’ll have a better idea what your child’s friends are like.
Driving point. Say yes to carpool duty. Why? I don’t know what it is about driving a lot of kids anywhere, but somehow the driver becomes invisible very quickly. Keep both hands on the wheel and listen carefully. You’ll be continually amazed and educated.
Choosing extracurricular activities. Although I don’t want your child to be overscheduled, the right activity is important. Choose wisely. Whether your young star shines on the basketball court, on stage, or camping with the Boy Scouts, his social skills are continually honed. Your volunteer time improves his star power. You’ll have a better idea of where she stands in the organization and what’s needed next if you’re in the mix of adults who keep the proverbial wheels oiled and rolling.
Praise specifically. When you see your child doing something you like, tell him!! Empty praise wears thin, but specific praise encourages the behavior you like. One young mom was mortified when her 10-year old son started telling her what his peers were telling him about sex. Yet she was fortunate that he was communicating this with his parents. Once the initial shock wore off, she was able to praise him for being honest and open with his parents. Three cheers for communication and specific praise!
Way to persevere, parent!! You’re obviously concerned about your child’s social intelligence, and now you’re ready to put some new ideas to the task. What a way to educate yourself and make a difference in your child’s life!