Last week, on my way to work, I passed a group of middle school kids on a corner all standing around talking with an older woman in a wheelchair. She might have been one of the kids’ grandmothers, but I’m not sure. It just warmed my heart to see the kids all interacting with each other, smiling and not on their phones. This was in contrast to what I saw a few days later in my neighborhood. There was another group of similar aged kids standing about 15 feet apart from each other, all looking kind of forlorn, in their own worlds, and (I know this will shock you!) on their phones. I couldn’t help but think about each of these kids’ days and the different experiences they’d have getting on the school bus. One group having stood around avoiding interaction, versus the ones who choose to communicate with each other.
I wonder…if the kids who choose to avoid each other had an adult around to facilitate some lighthearted interaction prior to getting on the bus, would they have engaged in conversation more? Sometimes adults “scaffold” for kids and help a little bit with the awkward social interactions. Not all kids will want to have conversations or talk while waiting for the school bus. Some kids aren’t morning people.
However, if you have a chance to hang out at the bus stop and get the kids to interact a little bit, it might set up a nice precedent for the school year going forward. They’re going to be in that situation every morning until the academic year ends. Also, if you have a child who has some nice social smarts, you could talk to them about this and see if they would want to be a leader at their bus stop and make it a little bit more like a hang out situation and a little less like they are on their own private island. – Dr. Wendy Rice
At Rice Psychology Group, we know getting your kids to unplug and socialize with others face-to-face is much harder today than in the past. That’s why our team of psychologists in Tampa, Fl would like to share a few helpful tips you can use to help kids build their social skills.
Set Them Up For Success
Whether they’re at the bus stop, in class or an after school activity, it’s important that as a parents, you understand the significance that social interaction has on your child’s mental health. We’re not referring to texting or playing video games. We mean actual face-to-face, verbal engagement with other kids. Having good social skills and interacting with others can boost your child’s mood, make them feel more confident, handle stress better, encourage creativity and increase their overall quality of life. Still, when they’re so use to talking through a screen and sharing their feelings through emojis, how can you as their parent, get them to put down the phone or video game controller and connect?
Here are a few ideas:
- Follow their interests. Your child will likely feel more at ease interacting with others when they are doing something they genuinely enjoy or have something in common. Whether it’s participating in their favorite sport or playing an instrument, when they are around others, doing the same thing they enjoy, it can help build their social skills. I can assure you that it’s a piece of cake for me to talk with other people who love horses even if we’ve never met but not so easy at a party where I don’t know anyone.
- Ask questions. If you notice your child is nervous around others or constantly wants to reach for their phone to hide behind, encourage them to ask questions. Help them practice asking questions that can’t be answered with just a yes or no and understand how fun it can be getting to know more about others. Brainstorm some easy questions they might ask in advance.
- Practice role playing. The value of practicing a little small talk or conversation skills cannot be overstated. Help your child come up with a few conversation starters that they are willing to use. Let them know that talking to people is a little bit like having catch. Each person has to be willing to participate. Pretend to be that other person they are afraid to talk to, and don’t forget to include smiling and a little bit of looking at the other person when role playing. It can go something like this:
- Person 1: Hi. Really like your bookbag. Any idea where I could get one like that?
(And if your child is willing to really role play with you – this is where you might end up. You could even read this script for starters)
- Person 2: I love it! It’s new for this school year. I think my mom got it at the mall. Do you want me to ask her where she bought it?
- Person 1: Sure, that would be awesome. I’d love to know. Do you ever go to the mall to hang out on the weekends?
- Person 2: Not that often because my mom thinks I’m too young but maybe if I had someone to go with. Would you want to see if we could go together?
- Person 1: Yes, definitely. I will talk to my parents tonight and I can get back to you tomorrow or whenever I see you next.
- Teach empathy. Help them understand that listening to others is just as important as speaking to others. They actually have to think about what the other person might be thinking or feeling. This can involve making some guesses about other people and seeing what it might be like to stand in another person’s shoes, literally or figuratively. Some kids do this naturally while others, especially those with learning, attention and autism-spectrum disorder challenges may need explicit help in perspective taking and how to show empathy.
- Know their limits and preferences. Some kids are very social. Some are not. If your child is shy, don’t push them into a situation too fast. Perhaps help them find a smaller group to interact with or one-on one. If your child loves conversation and large groups, maybe encourage them to become more of a leader and seek out the kids who are struggling and engage with them.
- Be a good role model. Be aware of how you interact with others when your child is around. Are you asking questions and listening to others?
It’s important to remember it will take time for your child to develop great social skills, no matter if they are introverted or extroverted. After all, even as an adult, you’re still improving on yours, right? However, if you’re encouraging and practicing with your child and you feel like they need a little extra help, our psychologists in Tampa, FL are here for you!
It Takes A Village
As we mentioned above, even when you try your hardest as a parent, sometimes you and your child could use a little outside help to get where you want to be. Our team in Tampa, can provide your family with the tools needed for a more positive and successful life. Contact us to schedule your free, 10-minute consultation today.