Do you ever wonder if your child has social skills challenges? Read through the statements below and check those that apply to your child.
( ) Your child does not solicit help, even from a trusted adult. Example: He did not tell anyone at school that he forgot his gym clothing and just went to gym that day.
( ) When having a discussion with your child, he does not follow your gaze to look at the object or person you are discussing. He only looks when you specifically tell him to.
( ) When watching your child in an unstructured setting (park or gym), he observes, but does not participate, plays on the side by himself, or takes over and does not allow others to do what they would like.
( ) When watching your child in a structured environment, he repeatedly needs to be told what is expected of him, otherwise, he is off task or distracted.
( ) Your child frequently misinterprets the intentions of others. For example, he will assume that a classmate who tripped and spilled milk on him did it on purpose.
( ) Your child does not notice when no one is paying attention to him as he chatters on and on about his favorite topic.
( ) Your child does not understand when certain (even true) statements should not be said because they will injure the feelings of others. For instance, he may tell Bubbe that her forehead has lots of lines in it or he will tell a friend that his house is really tiny.
( ) Your child may be amazing with the small details, but not be able to clearly portray or remember the big picture.
( ) Your child may have a hard time interpreting abstract concepts and may take things very literally. For example, he may believe that, “It’s raining cats and dogs” has to do with animals falling from the sky or that “I told you a million times” means that you literally told him a million times.
Checking off more than three of the categories above could indicate that your child is struggling with social skills acquisitions. But, what’s the issue here? Can you actively learn social skills?
People assume that we are born with innate social skills, but in reality, we are implicitly taught social skills from the time we are infants. Infants learn to smile in response to a happy event, toddlers learn that waving their hand means “hi,” and kindergarteners learn that saying “please” and “thank you” gets them what they want more easily. Many times, children pick up on these cues without anybody going out of their way in order to teach them. Undoubtedly, no one “teaches” babies to smile.
Many people “learn” how to make friends without any direct instruction; however, there are some children who do not automatically pick up on social cues and may need to be specifically taught. Marianna Costi, author of the book Social Awareness Skills for Children, explains that children with “Aspergers Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder and Learning Difficulties require considerable help in learning how to relate to other people and how to behave positively and appropriately. Other children may not have had socially skilled role models to learn from or they may have failed to pick up on the finer aspects of communication despite having very socially skilled parents or careers.”
Role-playing is one of many effective exercises that parents can do with children in order to help them gain social skills. Set up a scenario that you think might be difficult for your child. For instance, if your child is a toddler, then perhaps enact a situation that revolves around sharing. Show your child the correct way to respond and then have him mimic that behavior back to you. This will give your child the tools to use when he gets into those situations himself.
Another great way to get your child working on his social skills is to use the dinner table to practice conversational skills. Parents can work on talking about feelings, maintain eye contact, tone, voice modulation, and taking turns. This way, feedback can come in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
A wonderful workbook for social skills entitled Let’s Be Friends: A Workbook to Help Kids Learn Social Skills and Make Great Friends contains forty different activities to facilitate social skills. The activities focus on:
Self-awareness: knowing your strengths, weaknesses, and interests allows you to choose friends who are better suited to your personality. For instance, you are more likely to be friends with someone who loves baseball if you too are a sports fan.
Self-esteem: feeling confident in who you are makes you more comfortable around others. When you believe you have value, you will be more willing to allow others to invest their time and effort in a friendship with you.
First impressions: a friendly, smiling expression lets people know that you are open to new experiences and friendships. Studies show that people who smile more are consistently rated as more “likable.”
Reaching out: recognizing that other people might be uncomfortable in new situations can help you set someone else at ease. People always like those who exhibit kindness and empathy.
Body Language: identifying non-verbal cues helps conversations go more smoothly and easily. Facial expression and gestures are just as important as the words that come out of a person’s mouth.
Incidentally, these same role-playing techniques and social skills activities can be used during shidduch coaching. If you feel your child needs to brush up on his or her social skills, acting out the appropriate responses will set him or her at ease before entering the parsha of shidduchim.
About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills specialist, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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