Having friends is an important and necessary part of childhood. Humans need to be with other people. They nee to share their emotions and interact. Children who do not have friends usually do the worst in school. The rates of depression for children who do not have friends skyrockets and they are more likely to experience other mental health problems as well.
Friendships allow children to bond with peers and a child is more likely to model positive behavior from a friend. Many children have difficulty making friends, especially children who are different, shy or have special needs or a learning disability.
How parents can help?
Here are some strategies to teach children social skills:
- Know your child. It’s really important that parents understand how their kid’s personality works. This can help parents identify their child’s interests and find others who like similar things –video games, card games, movies, music – and help them share and communicate about those common interests.
- Pinpoint the abilities that need to be worked on. Specific needs vary from child to child and from situation to situation. Observe your child in different settings and make a note of what your child says or does to turn off other kids and try to figure out how that behavior should be modified to get other children to respond positively. You can get ideas by studying how children who are successful in making and keeping friendships act in similar situations.
- Discuss and demonstrate social skills. Talk with your child about the skills he needs to work on such as breaking the ice, acting in a positive manner, being nice, sharing, learning to compromise without fighting, etc. It’s not enough to tell your child to share. He has to know what sharing means as well as what it looks like and sounds like. Explain why it’s important to change his behavior and point out consequences. You can use social stories and scripts to help your child know exactly what to do in a given situation.
- Structure practice. Set aside time for practice and offer specific activities to do with peers that do not have special needs so they can serve as examples. Organize games that require taking turns and activities that can build a foundation for social interaction. Practice sessions that involve role playing can be particularly effective. When possible, give your child a chance to practice in everyday interactions, for example if your child is often loud and demanding, you can make him ask nicely before you respond to him or give him what he wants.
- Provide feedback and use positive reinforcement. When children are rewarded for their actions they are more likely to repeat them. Reward your child with praise, hugs and smiles when he successfully uses new social skills. You can also describe what the positive consequences are for his or her actions. When you have to correct your child, do it in a positive manner and do not punish.
- Provide opportunities for peer interaction. You can have your child join a playgroup. Invite cousins or children from school or church for a play date at your house or visit the library or park. Enroll your child in activities, sports or clubs.
- Provide encouragement. Some children will need more encouragement. Try to convince the child to try to participate in a new activity or within a new group of children but let him know he doesn’t have to continue if he doesn’t feel comfortable. This is important to build trust and confidence.
- Help your child identify when a relationship is not working. Sometimes social interaction is not successful due to the nature of the activity but sometimes people simply don’t get along and it’s time to move on.
- Teach your child about bullying and to recognize unhealthy relationships. Some children with special needs don’t recognize when they are being teased or when other kids are taking advantage of them.
- Be patient. Teaching a child social skills is a hard job that requires patience. It can sometimes be frustrating and you need to learn from your mistakes. Try new things and reward successes. In some cases, your child may need professional counseling, but helping him improve relationships with peers and make friends will ultimately help him become a healthy and well adjusted adult.
Creative commons-licensed photo provided by bokeh burger.
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