Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Q: Can someone learn how to make friends?

A: People assume that we are born with innate social skills, but in reality, we are implicitly taught social skills from the time that 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.

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Therefore, the answer to your question – can someone learn how to make friends – is “yes.” 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 carers.”

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 the following situation:

Parent: Pretend I am another child playing next to you. I am playing with a toy that you want. What would you do?

Child: I grab it.

Parent: You know what? Instead, let’s pretend that you are playing with a toy that I want to play with.

Child: Ok.

Parent: That looks like a fun toy. Can I play with it?

Child: No, I play.

Parent: Ok, can I have a turn when you are done?

Child: Um. Okay. Soon.

Parent: See, I didn’t grab it and then you agreed to give me a turn. Now, you try.

As a child gets older, the situations get more complex. For instance, what do you do when children are playing in a group and you feel left out? How do you invite someone over to yourself for a play date? How do you introduce yourself to someone that you meet for the first time? What do you do if your friend is talking and the teacher tells everyone to be quiet? What can you do if someone tries to do something to you that makes you uncomfortable?

In each of the above situations, create a role-play scenario in which you enact the appropriate response and then allow your child to mimic that response. This will give your child the tools to use when he gets into those situations himself.

Incidentally, this same role-playing technique 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 your child at ease when he or she enters the parsha of shidduchim.

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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 rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.