Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

I’ve discovered a way to stay friends forever–
There’s really nothing to it.
I simply tell you what to do
And you do it! – Shel Silverstein

 

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Shel Silverstein had a way with words. He knew how to transform a tree into a living, breathing being in The Giving Tree, and to describe the search for the person who completes you in The Missing Piece. In the ironic poem above, Shel Silverstein writes about a way to “stay friends forever.” Of course, no friendship works if one person is constantly bossing the other person around. And there aren’t any hard and fast rules for friendship, right? Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson of UCLA PEERS (Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relationship Skills) argues that there are rules for making friends. The good news? If we learn those rules even kids who struggle with making friends can succeed.

In her book The Science of Making Friends: Helping Socially Challenged Teens and Young Adults, Dr. Laugeson distinguishes between art and science. She says that most people believe that making friends is an art. She writes:

Have you ever heard of social skills described as an art form? Some would say there’s an art to being social and making friends – an innate quality that you’re either born with or you’re not. Take conversational skills for example. Sometimes referred to as the gift of gab, many believe you’re either good at making small talk or you’re not. Although it may be true that some have a natural knack for the conversational arts, it’s not necessarily true that all social skills are hardwired or fixed. What if conversational skills, and more broadly social skills, were not an art but a science? … We believe social skills can be taught, much in the way we might teach math or science. By breaking down complex, seemingly sophisticated social skills into concrete rules and steps of social behavior, we can demystify and to some extent decode the “art form” that is social skills.

For decades, I have been helping teens and young adults learn the “art of social skills.” This book has the parents act as the social coach and gives a step-by-step guide to helping children make friends, resolve conflict, choose good friends, and deal with bullying. The book also helps teach teens in teen-friendly terms.

Social Skills and Shidduchim

Social skills are important at all ages, and not just for making friends. In fact, the people I work with most frequently on social skills acquisition are young adults in the parsha of shidduchim.

Perhaps one of the most important social skills that people can learn while in shidduchim (and for the rest of their lives) is empathy. Empathy means being able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and recognize his or her feelings. This is not the same as sympathy or feeling sorry for someone, rather, empathy is responding in an understanding and caring way to what others are feeling.

Gwen Dewar, PhD, suggests multiple ways to foster empathy in adolescents and young adults. First, she argues that people need to know how to regulate their own emotions. To that end, in my shidduch coaching, we work on different responses to disappointing or painful situations. Once a client is self-confident enough to respond well to his or her own disappointments, we work on responding to others. Often, this requires explaining the hot-cold empathy gap.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to appreciate the power of a food craving when you aren’t hungry? This is what researchers call the “hot-cold empathy gap,” and it appears to be a universal problem. When people are feeling cool and collected, they underestimate how compelling emotionally or physiologically “hot” states – like hunger – can be.

Conversely, people in the grip of “hot” states often underestimate how much their current perceptions are influenced by their situation. The hot-cold empathy gap leads to mistakes in judgment and failures of empathy. But once we understand how the hot-cold empathy gap works, we can use it to teach empathy.

Understanding the hot-cold empathy gap can help those in shidduchim comprehend how their actions might influence their dates. Gaining empathy for other people’s emotions will allow young adults react appropriately in new social interactions.

In addition to empathy, there are some essential qualities that every person should have in order to have a successful marriage and relationship. When looking for a spouse, you should look for social intelligence as well. But, what specifically is social intelligence and how can you recognize it in others?

The ability to make friends and sustain friendships. People who have strong social networks of friends and family clearly are able to have long-term relationships. Listen to the way the other person speaks about their friends. Does he have friendships that have lasted more than a few months or years? This indicates the ability to engage in positive relationships.

The power to conduct conversation with strangers or acquaintances. People who have social anxiety will often freeze up in the face of new and different people. Social anxiety can inhibit even the kindest and most interesting person; however, learning to overcome this phobia can be learned.

An understanding of non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication consists of eye contact and body language. Through appropriate use of eye contact and body language, it is easy to understand the other person’s feelings and intentions. In addition, one can learn how to conduct himself through non-verbal communication in order to put himself in the best light.

Is there a science to social skills? Absolutely – and once you master the rules, you can make friends and find your perfect match.

 

Register now for an anger management workshop by Dr. Ross Greene on November 14, 2017. Please call Mrs. Schonfeld at 718-382-5437 for more information.

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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.