Parents of children who are dealing with these issues need not despair. There is plenty of help available for these youngsters and with the proper intervention and training they can change dramatically. The first step is to bring the child to a professional who specializes in social skills training in order to be evaluated. Discuss the issues candidly and be very specific. Give examples of how the child acts and reacts in class. It would be helpful to get some feedback from teachers and administrators in school as well.
It is very important to realize that not every child who is unpopular has social skills issues. Not every child should or could conform to the rigid social expectations of their peers. In some cases, children are just different and are expressing their individuality. They should be admired for this and it should be recognized that individuality is one thing and social incompetence is something else entirely. It’s best to discuss these issues with a professional counselor so that a proper evaluation can be made.
Once it’s determined that there is a problem what can a social worker do? Role-playing is an important factor in learning to develop proper social skills. Amazing as it may seem, many of these children are clueless that they are dong something wrong. A professional can gently but firmly guide the child in the proper direction and offer advice on how to deal with real-life situations.
Parents can do some of these things as well. For example, Sara’s mother can say, “Next time Mrs. Horowitz calls me, it would be nice for you to say, ‘Hello, how are you?’ before you hand me the phone.” Or alternatively, she could say, “I was really impressed with the way you said mazel tov so nicely to the kallah at the vort we went to last night.”
Aaron’s parents can encourage him as well. His father can tell him, “I’ll bet that the Rebbe would be very happy if you spoke to him quietly after class about the fight you had with Yankie instead of speaking loudly during the shiur.” He could also say, “It’s a good thing you didn’t make any jokes when the Rebbe was telling a story today. Now he knows that you are mature enough to be in the sixth grade.”
What if the social ineptitude is so great that the child is being ridiculed and harassed by his or her peers? Unfortunately, this does happen and at times like this the school administration should get involved. It may be necessary for a teacher or administrator to lecture the class on proper midos and to discuss the cruelty of rejection and of bullying others. It should be made clear that such behavior is unacceptable and that disciplinary action may be taken to punish children who are involved in these activities.
A caring and wise teacher can make all the difference in the world. There are countless opportunities to guide and encourage children like these and the positive benefits can last for years. If Sara’s morah would praise her in public, if she would say what a fine job she did on a school project, it would bring her one step closer to acquiring the self confidence that she so desperately needs. Similarly, if Aaron’s rebbe would allow him to mentor a younger student, it would give him the sense of responsibility that could make a big difference in his behavior. In short, it will tell these kids that we believe in them, that we have high expectations of them, and that we are confident that they will perform well.