The early school years are a time when some children appear to have a few social issues that become evident amongst their peers. It can be devastating for both you and your child when this emerges. Social skills are something that are learned, and rely on social cues and expectations. Some children do not read those social cue naturally.
Sometimes children may can be on the Autistic spectrum or have other comorbidities, and need support and guidance in negotiating their social world or it may just be a phase that your child is going through, and needs some coaching and parent modeling to develop better social skills.
Here are some ways to support your child child struggling with social confidence:
* Do not use information against your child.
If your child has opened up to you and expressed his fears and difficulties that he is experiencing, be sure that your child can trust you with that information. Do not use this information against your child when you are angry at something he has done.
For example, if you know that your child is having difficulty making friends, the last thing you would ever want to say in a moment of anger is, “No wonder you have no friends!” This may sound harsh, but some parents forget how words spoken in 5 seconds, can leave a child devastated for a long time. After all, if a child cannot count on his parents, who can he count on?
* Teach your child the importance of respecting personal space.
Children, who are socially struggling, can often be observed not understanding where their personal space ends and someone else’s begins. This can be annoying to their peers, therefore you may need to teach your child this important skill.
You can teach this concept by having your child stand a couple feet away from you. Have him/her move closer to you, and tell you when he/she feels that the distance is too close and uncomfortable. Show your child what your comfortable space is for talking to someone. You want to show your child as well that most people feel comfortable interacting with another person who is standing 18″ to 2 feet away from them. You can use an item of similar length to show your child what this looks like. Then have him/her practice maintaining this space when talking to you, others in the home, relatives, and other people outside the home.
* Support your child by teaching appropriate behaviour, expectations and consequences.
Teach your child that it is not appropriate to run around the room and be disruptive when someone else is talking, for example, explain to them that they need to respect other people’s right to have a turn to talk and that other people will give him/her a turn to talk. Make sure that you set consequences for poor behaviour and encourage good behaviour. Make sure your expectations are realistic when setting perimeters and you follow through consistently with consequences.
* Find an activity and place that your child is accepted & can excel.
It is important that your child make friends. Sometimes, school can be a difficult place to make friends. That is where social clubs, sports, art activities, church youth groups, etc. can play a huge role in improving your child’s confidence levels.
You may want to volunteer with your child at the local sports club or drama club… any where that your child shows an interest. When he/she might get busy learning new skills with a new group of possible friends, the emphasis is taken away from the social aspects of the interaction and new levels of connection can happen with a common interest. In extending your child’s social world can increase his/her confidence levels.
All the best,