There comes a point in everybody’s life where we are no longer mini versions of our parents, but emerging versions of ourselves. For some people, it happens soon after they’re born – others take a little longer. Some people seem to have it easy with good looks, calm personalities and smart brains. Of course, these people often envy the loud party animals with outspoken opinions and fashion as loud as their voices. The grass will always seem greener on the other side.
Nobody seems to ever wish they were a social outcast though.
Social differences can develop into debilitating anxieties about setting foot outside your house. Kids don’t choose when to go out and when to stay home, so you may find yours becoming increasingly uncomfortable with life in the outside world if they are not equipped with the skills to cope with the social world around them. In addition to that, it is unfortunate that in this life, not everybody treats others as they wish to be treated. Humans were made to be connected; to live a life without experiencing the beautiful joys of relationship would be a great tragedy.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CHILD IS LACKING IN SOCIAL SKILLS?
* Does your child have consistent friendships?
* Does your child know how to interact with kids they aren’t familiar with?
* Is your child aware of how the world works? (i.e. Things cost money, cars run on gas, other people have thoughts)
* Does your child share?
* Does your child handle the situation appropriately when he/she doesn’t win a game?
* Is your child aware of how his/her actions make other kids feel?
* Can your child flexibly change the topic of conversation to match what the other child/ren want to talk about?
* Is your child OK with not being the boss?
WHAT DO I DO IF I SAID “NO” TO MOST OF THE ABOVE QUESTIONS?
Firstly, it is going to be OK. This is not a reflection of your parenting – some kids just need coaching with social cues that most people pick up naturally. Early intervention is key – so that means you can start right away with helping your child to piece together the puzzle of social life. Some children who lack in social skills will be like quiet mice who cling to their parents or best friend, unable to express their gorgeous insides and beautiful minds because they are afraid. Others are the loudest things you’ve ever heard – making their demands known to everyone within a mile radius, unfortunately often not stopping to ask how anyone else feels about the situation. Then, there are the kids who just like things that nobody else likes – and that is totally OK. When I was a child I was obsessed with dogs – I would draw them constantly, I would dress our family dogs in costumes, I would take a thousand photos of them, I would brush their teeth, read books to them and paint their nails. I even once made my dog a hat. This fixation spanned from the time I was born… until… OK, it never really ended. But the purpose of sharing this information is that none of my friends cared about dogs like I did. That didn’t cause me to stop loving dogs – but it caused me to curb my enthusiasm enough to be socially present with other childrens’ interests. I needed reminders to come back to ‘people land’ and out of ‘dog land’. ‘Dog land’ is a much easier place to be than ‘people land’ – but living entirely in ‘dog land’ will never cause a person to live at their full potential. There is hope – behavior can be modified.
HOW DO WE MAKE CHANGE?
Please remember that we want to encourage social behaviors, not take away your child’s individuality. Your child’s quirks make him/her they beautiful person they are – a person highly gifted with the ability to think outside the box. Though it has been said that our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. We need to live with an awareness of ‘the box’ if we are to think outside of it. We can have the best hope of modifying antisocial behaviors by equipping our kids with a knowledge of the way the world works. You may not like the way the world works, but in some sense, it is what it is.
(1) Model Observation
Talk about life as it happens. Does that person serving at the restaurant look upset? What could be stressing them out? Is it a busy day? Talk about people’s facial expressions, body language and attitude. Does the person on TV look excited? Why? How does that person’s behavior affect other people? Observe these things happening outside of your child’s direct circumstance so that they can start to understand that everybody has feelings and that feelings are important.
(2) Involve Your Kids in Your Life
It is a whole lot easier to go grocery shopping without your kids in tow. But, by taking them to the store they are learning more than you realize. It is the little things that we take for granted, like the understanding that fresh produce is priced by weight or that some things are organic and some are conventional. By taking your kids to the store, you can explain that there is such a thing as a budget – a budget is a set amount of money, and money is a finite resource. This knowledge is essential, and will help you when they whine about not being able to buy everything in sight. When you take your kids to a coffee shop, you can teach them how to look a server in the eye and order their menu items with a confident voice. You can also teach them how to pay – money is not INSIDE the card, but inside the bank. Money is the same in cash as it is on card.
(3) Exercise Boundaries
If you let your children walk on the dinner table and do whatever they want, they will probably not have healthy friendships. If you don’t use the dreaded word, “No” on occasion, then you are helping your child to be isolated. All people need to learn how to deal with boring or undesirable situations, and by sugar-coating moments that don’t go your child’s way you are probably not aware that this will most certainly bleed into their socialization. Adults deal with children authoritatively, but they also deal with children with a level of grace that most kids do not give one another. I have watched many children struggle socially because they do not possess the skills to cope with ‘No’. Some kids don’t know how to use the word ‘No’. They are the ones who are likely to be caught up in peer pressure or find themselves being manipulated by others. It is important that we teach our kids when their ‘Yes’ should be ‘Yes’ and their ‘No’ should be ‘No’. Adulthood requires boundaries, and they don’t fall out of the sky.
(4) Facilitate and Encourage Play Dates
Depending on the age of the child, it is appropriate for parents to be involved in a play date. First, you’ll need to find a child that gets along with your child – please do not force someone else’s child into a play date. If the other child doesn’t like yours for whatever reason, then let sleeping dogs lie. There will always be another playmate: keep looking! Try to encourage consistent friendships with children in the same class. If that doesn’t work out, try the same grade. If that doesn’t work – try the same school, church, synagogue, community interest group etc. If your child doesn’t know what to do with unstructured time, try a play date that has a task – such as; rock climbing, bike riding, craft making, trampoline, going out to lunch etc. If your child has limited and obscure interests, then attempt to widen them with an activity that involves structure and a familiar person. Be there as a comfort and a coach, but be willing to step back to give your child independence.
(5) Social Skills Groups
If you come to a point where you feel it would be helpful to employ outside services, social skills groups exist. At Kahlon Family Services we offer year-round groups in the San Francisco Bay Area to kids of all ages. Something that sets our social groups apart is our new program that involves weekly sessions for parents at the same time the kids are with their group. The parent sessions are aimed at equipping you with a tool box of strategies for family life – especially with kids who struggle socially.