I was at my mother’s yesterday and was telling her about how Brian can be pretty awkward when he’s with other kids. It’s not that he doesn’t like spending time with his classmates; it’s just that his social cues seem to be…off. I told her that two of his friends told him what appeared to be a secret, and he replied by repeating what he’d just heard loud enough for everyone to hear. While I laughed as I witnessed it, I realized that this might be a sign that his social skills are not exactly honed. I want Brian to enjoy and be successful at being social, but how can I manage that?
Our social skills allow us to adapt and adjust our behavior to fit specific social situations as well as our personal needs and desires. According to author and clinical psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., seeing, thinking and doing are the three main processes used to navigate the social world:
- Seeing allows us to pick up on social cues like our settings, the people around us and which type of behavior is appropriate.
- Thinking involves interpreting others’ behaviors to understand their actions. It additionally means predicting likely responses to formulate effective influential strategies.
- Doing in a social context represents our positive interactions with people. This means speaking at a proper time, with a proper tone and saying the right things.
We are huge fans of Michelle Garcia Winner, a speech language pathologist, who created the concept of “social thinking”. She defines it as “the process by which we interpret the thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, knowledge and actions of another person along with the context of the situation to understand that person’s experience.”While many of us find it quite easy to grasp social situations, some children may need help. Click To Tweet
She goes on to explain that our social thinking impacts our social skills, how well we understand other peoples’ perspectives, social problem solving, ability to work cooperatively and even our reading comprehension and expressive writing abilities.
While many of us find it quite easy to grasp social situations, some children may need help.
How we act in and handle certain situations can vary. If you’ve noticed that your child needs a bit of guidance to hone their social skills, then contact our licensed psychologists in Tampa today.
7 Important Tips
Some kids just pick up on social cues easily. They glide through even the stickiest of interactions with people of all ages. However, we need to remember that there are lots of kids out there who could either benefit from some extra coaching and feedback as well as those who need to be explicitly taught how to communicate socially with other people.If your child focuses on your eyes, it’s easier for them to pick up on your expressions. Click To Tweet
When you consider the three processes we discussed above, you can begin to understand where your child might need improvement. For example, you may be able to help your child see much more effectively by drawing observations that point their attention to relevant clues, such as a friend’s frustration or the way two other friends interact with them.
At Rice Psychology Group, we suggest taking the following tips into consideration:
- Eye Contact – If your child focuses on your eyes, it’s easier for them to pick up on your expressions. To inspire this, encourage him/her to look you in the eyes when speaking to them. The folks from Social Thinking encourage kids to “think with their eyes” by teaching that we pay attention to what we’re looking at. If they have trouble, have them focus on nearby areas on your face like the forehead and eyebrows.
- Attention – While multi-tasking may be all the rage, we know better! Kids who struggle with social cues don’t realize how important it is to pay attention when interacting with others. They need to direct their brains to pay attention to other people and what they’re doing and saying. Lead by example by giving your child your undivided attention when he or she is talking with you. Likewise, if your child’s eyes drift to their device or other distraction while you talk, gently guide them back into the conversation.
- Expressions – Faces carry amazing clues on them that other people can see and use to decipher what you’re thinking or feeling. Some kids need to learn this explicitly. If you tell your child, “Your forehead is all wrinkled. Are you feeling worried?”, they can begin to realize how expressive their own face is. This can help them to tune into other people’s expressions.
- Body Language – Is your child aware that the way they sit, stand or move conveys information to other people? You can encourage your child to notice body language with a game of charades or by simply observing the behavior of others out in public or on TV. You could mute a show and let them make up what they think is going on based on people’s body language. Help them understand why a person’s body is doing what it’s doing and its connection to their emotions.
- What’s Expected – Your child may not understand that particular ways of talking and acting are “expected” in some situations but not others. When kids act in “expected” ways, other people feel comfortable around them and treat them well. But when they act in ways that are “unexpected” or don’t fit the situation, others may feel uncomfortable or even annoyed with them. They may need help adjusting to how they behave and talk with friends versus teachers and other adults. Help them evaluate the interactions they can have with their peers and friends by discussing their roles and how they should be approached.
- How You Say it Matters – Your voice’s pitch, tone and inflection can accentuate certain emotions and even completely change the meaning of what you say. For example, “Did you break that cup?” is quite different from “Did you break that cup?”, but your child might miss the message by only listening to the words and interpreting what was said too literally. Help them understand a bit about pitch, tone and inflection, such as the fact that a simple question can be used as an angry demand or a simple request. Bottom line – how you say it is at least as important as what you say, and paying attention to this matters both as the listener and speaker.
- Practice – Role-playing common scenarios with your child is one of the most useful ways to help them tune into and practice their social thinking, talking and interactions. You can practice body language, inflection and other cues that he/she may have trouble with in the comfort of your home. You can guess what each other is doing or intending using your social thinking tools.
Let’s Get SocialIs your child aware that the way they sit, stand or move conveys information to other people? Click To Tweet
Social interactions are a part of our everyday life, so why not make sure your child is taking part in them in a fun and effective manner? The psychologists at Rice Psychology Group are ready to help you and your loved ones find the best way to start the journey towards normality. Whether you’re trying to find a way to understand your child’s situation or are ready to take the first step towards feeling better yourself, we’re always ready to help.