If your child is socially inept, you know how painful that can be for your child. The GREAT NEWS is:
Social Skills Can Be Taught
Your child does not have to remain socially inept. For kids with specific learning disabilities involving executive functioning, an inability to read body language, or ADHD, awareness is the key.
Children on the Autism spectrum can be taught social skills too, but progress will vary widely with the child’s severity of autism. If your child is on the high functioning end of the spectrum, you will have better outcomes than can be made with a child on the very low functioning end of the spectrum.
Often, however, a child may be socially inept, but not be on the autism spectrum at all. For kids who just don’t “get it”, explicit teaching is helpful.
If your child is socially inept, direct teaching of social skills can help your child in all areas of life.
How To Help Your Socially Inept Child
Social Skills Direct Teaching:
The primary reason kids are socially inept, outside of autism, is because they don’t understand or read body language. Sometimes the failure to read body language can be a result of poor executive functioning skills.
If your child has been diagnosed with an executive functioning deficit, you might find that working on improving those functions will enhance your child’s social interactions. Using a cognitive enhancement program designed to improve executive functioning is something you can do at home, and your child might enjoy the program.
One of the most important things you can do while you child is very young is to coach him socially at the moment you observe any socially inept interactions. Teaching during those “teachable moments” can make the difference between your child remembering what you tell him versus easily forgetting.
Let’s consider two examples of being socially inept, followed by Coaching:
Example 1: Let’s say your child is talking to another child and the child begins walking away. Your child continues talking and following the child. The other child turns around, gives an annoyed look, and tries to walk away faster. Your child is not reading the other child’s body language.
Your Coaching: Call your child over and explain to him, “Did you notice (Johnny) got up and walked away? Did you notice while you were continuing talking, he turned around and looked at you without smiling? Those are some signs people give that mean they are not interested in what you are saying. (Johnny) probably didn’t want to hurt your feelings, so he was trying to walk away. When someone walks away while you’re talking, it’s better to stop talking and go do something else.”
Example 2: Your child runs up to another child and starts talking. Unfortunately, your child’s face is only about one foot from the other child. Because your child is invading the other child’s personal space, the other child backs up. Your child moves closer again, and the other child backs up some more. It is clear to you that your child is not honoring “personal space” boundaries. They’re invisible, so it’s not uncommon for socially inept kids to overlook personal space. Your Coaching: Call your child over and explain to him, “Did you see how (Johnny) kept backing away every time you stepped closer to him? Most people feel better if you leave at least an arm’s length between you and them. You can go back and talk to (Johnny), but this time, leave more space between you and (Johnny) so (Johnny) can feel comfortable and stand still. Telling your child very specifically HOW his behaviors are seen by others and what behaviors of others mean will help your child understand social skills better.
Engage in Social Skills PRACTICE
With either of the above examples, you can practice the skills later at home. You don’t want to embarrass your child or make him feel more socially inept by talking to him in front of other children, or by practicing in front of others. Therefore, it is best to set aside time on the weekends to practice a few social skills with your child. You can act as the other person would act while coaching your child. If your child has a very close friend (and I do me BEST friend like a sibling), then you might have the two practice social “do overs” whenever there are social situations you’d like to help your child improve. Siblings can practice with each other too, but that does require very careful oversight by you to make sure the other sibling doesn’t treat your socially inept child badly.
Suggested Reading for Helping Your Socially Inept Child
Social Thinking Author, by Michelle Garcia Winner, has a large number of books that come highly recommended by other Learning Abled Kids’ moms. Her “Social Thinking” workbooks are good for giving kids specific skills to think about and work on. We used the book, Teaching Your Child the Language of Social Success, which was suggested by our Neuropsychologist (NP). Our NP told me that social skills can be directly taught and this particular book was the best book for understanding how to teach you child social skills. Another strongly recommended book, recommended by other Learning Abled Kids’ Moms, is The Unwritten Rules of Friendship. This book addresses nine different types of children and how their social behaviors affect their interactions with others. By figuring out what role your child plays in social interactions, you can help your child become less socially inept. Understanding how to interact with children of other personalities will help your child.
Social Skills for High School Students
If your child is in high school, you are less likely to have an opportunity to discretely coach your child socially. Your child can still benefit from social instruction though. Here are a couple of books that are good for high school aged children. Communication and Interpersonal Relationships, by Dave Marks How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie Giving your child either of these books along with encouragement and a willingness to discuss any questions your child may have will help your child take ownership of his social skills. I’ve known of several Learning Abled Kids who went from being socially inept to being socially savvy!