Sara is pulling straight A’s in all of her classes. She scores high grades on most of her exams and tests. You would think that she and her parents would be thrilled with her progress. But Sara is struggling in school despite her academic excellence. Socially, she is a wreck. While all the other girls easily group together during recess she has few friends, little social contact, and she is generally reclusive and shy around classmates and teachers.
Aaron is a completely different story. He’s not much of a student at all. He barely gets by in his schoolwork and his Rebbeim are disappointed in his grades. Aaron’s social status is also suffering, but in a completely different way than Sara’s. He is aggressive with his peers and disruptive in class. He calls out at all the wrong times and he speaks in a very loud voice. Aaron’s classmates are uncomfortable around him, and generally avoid him during recess. Like Sara, he doesn’t have many friends.
Sara and Aaron are two very different children who are dealing with completely different issues. Yet, they both need help developing their social skills. Parents of children who are socially inept are frustrated and often feel guilty. Perhaps if they would have spent more time with the child, if they would have set up play-dates more often, if they would have organized social activities early on, none of this would have happened. But the truth is that it’s nobody’s fault and nobody should be feeling guilty. Children are basically born with social skills, or they’re not. It’s part of their nature. The same way that Sara was born “gifted” in academics, she was born “inept” in social skills. She may even have a twin sister who is a social butterfly or a brother who’s the most popular kid in class. But Sara herself needs help in this area.
What can we do to help children like Sara and Aaron? First the problem needs to be identified. This is not easy, because parents are reluctant to admit that a social problem exists and there’s plenty of denial in this area. Yet those who are honest with themselves and their children will recognize the warning signals. Here are some of the things parents of children like Sara should look out for:
1. Weak greeting skills — If a child has trouble responding to a simple “Sholom Aleichem” or “How are you?” this can signify weak social skills.
2. Social discomfort — Is the child noticeably uncomfortable with peers? Is he or she nervous or inhibited at parties and social gatherings?
3. Weak requesting skills — Is the child afraid to ask for something he needs? Does she avoid asking a question in class or asking the clerk in a store for change?
Children like Aaron may present other socially inept patterns such as:
1. Problematic conflict resolution — Does the child have trouble settling minor social disputes? Do these disputes often result in aggression? Will this child pick a fight over something trivial like where to sit on the school bus?
2. Poorly regulated humor — Is the child using the wrong kind of humor in the wrong place at the wrong time? Will he make an offensive joke in front of a person of authority? Does he try to be a clown during serious moments in class?
3. Poor social memory — Does the child have trouble learning from past social experiences? Is he repeating negative behaviors even though they have offended people in the past?Rifka Schonfeld