[Parents] How To Help Your Kids Develop Social Skills

Illustration ©Megan Fisher

Illustration ©Megan Fisher

Children and adolescents often find it difficult to communicate with their peers or adults in an effective manner. Because school is the place your child spends the majority of his or her day, it is where he or she will develop social skills and acquire a social status or identity. Psychologists have written extensively about social status and its imprint on a child’s identity. Below is an excerpt outlining a general spectrum of social statuses:

“Some children are well endowed with social skills. They are popular and very well liked by all or most of their peers. Some seem to have a knack for making friends and getting along with others. They are very friendly and outgoing and always seem to be at ease around people. Other children are popular because they are on the school football team, play in a band, can draw very well or are really good-looking. Popular students are typically the leaders at school. They are self-confident and influential.

Many students are not really considered popular but are pretty well-liked by their peers and have a number of friends. This group of children usually comprises the majority of the students in a class. These likable children feel good about how they relate to others but may, at times, worry about what their classmates think of them. Some children are shy, quiet and timid. They may have one or two close friends but not a large group of friends. While other students like them, they do not get involved in many activities in or out of school. They tend to feel awkward or uncomfortable around people they don’t know very well. Shy children usually aren’t unhappy about how they get along with others but wish that they could feel more comfortable and be more involved. Some shy children become anxious in social situations.

Other students are ignored or unnoticed by their peers. No one really dislikes or likes them. These children are not the ones picked first for activities, but they are not the ones that are teased or bullied either. They are usually social adept. Some of these children don’t like being ignored but others don’t mind because they are more interested in solitary activities or prefer interactions with adults more than with peers.

The children who have the most social difficulty at school are those that are rejected by their peers. Other children really don’t like them and may not treat them well. Rejected children are those that are picked on, laughed at, talked about, teased and bullied. They are widely disliked, excluded from activities and may be ostracized by their peers.” – Candy Lawson, Ph.D. “School and Social Skills”

Does your child have difficulty approaching new groups of children?  Is it a challenge for your child to make friends due to his or her shyness?  Are social situations a scary prospect for your child?  Is problem-solving in the classroom or in everyday life an issue? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then you might be interested in enrolling your child in a social skills class. Holly Reichlin, a colleague of mine who is a certified speech pathologist, educator, and learning expert in private practice, is running a Brooklyn-based social skills group for children of varying ages. Her social skills groups explore the nature of peer relationships through the use of plays, book making, and games designed to nurture verbal and non-verbal communication and social skills.

Groups can be an ideal way to address social skills in young people because they foster a supportive, collective, safe, yet simultaneous “real world” setting for children to practice adaptive social skills. Says Holly, “I’d like to see your children become detectives. Through a process of role playing and problem solving, they can unveil the mysteries of the social spectrum.” Social skills like confidence, curiosity, cooperation, and communication are essential to learning and go hand-in-hand with developing resilience, and scholastic success.

Holly’s social skills classes address children of different ages (5-8; 8-10; 10-13; adolescents) and distinct interpersonal needs. Please contact her directly for more information.

il_fullxfull.214758801Holly Reichlin is a certified speech language pathologist who has had a school-aged private practice in Brooklyn Heights for over 20 years. She has also been a teacher of the speech and hearing handicapped in the public schools for over 30 years.  She has collaborated with parents, teachers, school psychologists, learning specialists and counselors when treating her clients. You can contact her at speech@pegas.us

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The Value of Resilience

One of the most important skills we can teach our children is the value of resilience. What exactly is resilience? According to psychologists, some of the factors that make someone resilient include a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after a misfortune, blessed with such an outlook, resilient people are able to change course and soldier on. (Psychology Today) We all experience setbacks, disappoints, and failures — perceived or real. Resilience is the quality to rise up and come back more determined than ever.

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I’m not going to sugarcoat the reality of our culture today. Kids (children and teens) must confront myriad stressors: at home, in school, in their social lives, from the media, and most of all from themselves. And you can bet they are internalizing these pressures to be “perfect,” regardless of how amazing we tell them they are. We live in a culture of comparison, where at every turn we seem to measure success by achievements. Now, I’m not saying that ambition is a negative thing. By all means, we want our children to  set high standards for themselves and do everything possible to reach those goals. But as parents and educators, it is tantamount to give young people tools to cope with disappointment (when they can’t meet their goals, or if meeting their goals does not give them the pay-off they imagined). Expectations are suburb: but children need strategies to manage expectations lest they become all-consuming. Everyone faces challenges that are out of our control, but the trick is to reclaim agency and build a strong sense of internal character.

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Here are some ideas and tips on how to build resilience in your child or teen at home and at school. I can’t think of a better way to start off the New Year!

  • Encourage Mentoring Relationships. Help your child to develop a mentoring relationship with an adult who is outside of your immediate family. This will build positive connectedness with the world and a vision of the world as a place for growth and opportunity.
  • Build A Sense of Agency. The more a child feels in control of his or her actions, the more he or she will build a sense of internal control, even in a world where ultimate control is an illusion. By making decisions on their own, children will understand the nature of consequences — positive and negative, and little by little they will develop a sense of agency.
  • Teach Children To Manage Expectations. Expectations are a natural part of existing in the social and scholastic world. And while a holistic approach to managing expectations promotes individual expectations over collective ones, the reality of life is that students must deal with external expectations at some point. Work at home or with an outside professional to develop strategies on how to teach your child ways to effectively manage expectations without letting them be all-consuming.
  • Limit Social Media. While children (and adults too) might find it impossible to live in the world without engaging in social media, it is completely possible! We are all aware of the studies that link social media with depression and anxiety, especially in females. Social media fosters what is known as a “cultivated self” — as people get to handpick the aspects of themselves to create a profile, which essentially is an illusory self. This is a hard concept even for adults to grasp, let alone children. The expression, FOMO (fear of missing out) is one result of social media infiltrating the minds and souls of children and teens who engage with it regularly. Many of my students tells me they use social media to help keep up with assignments and work “virtually” with their peers on schoolwork. I completely believe them. But social media can suck away a student’s precious time, and in many cases can become addictive and foster competition and feelings of low self-esteem. By “snooping” on other people’s lives, social media can trigger feelings of resentment and envy. You might want to suggest that during periods of stress, or especially intense times at schools, that students deactivate their accounts (temporarily) to avoid the temptation of logging on and getting distracted from the realities of their own lives. Encourage activities outside the house, and talk with your children about the difference between perception and reality.
  • Advocacy. Encourage your child or teen to become involved with an advocacy cause. By standing up for the rights of others, students will feel empowered and worthwhile and think outside of themselves.
  • Mantras and Affirmations. We are becoming a nation of slogans. Unfortunately, people often repeat slogans without fully understanding them or making them personal and relevant. But, by making your own mantras or affirmations, you can reclaim a slogan and make it meaningful. Encourage your child to come up with a positive slogan to start each day. Words are powerful, both consciously and unconsciously. Saying is believing!
  • Model Resilience. Parents and educators are humans, and it is impossible for us to model resilience all of the time. However, we must do our best not to berate our failures (perceived or real) because children and teens are watching our every move, even when we think they aren’t (or even when they roll their eyes at us). The more open you are to the world as a positive place despite the inevitable disappointments, the more your child will see it as one.

For strategies on how to foster resilience in children and teens, check out this fantastic book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, FAAP.