Summer is a wonderful time to help children develop the social skills necessary to grow into confident adults. Social skills help us interact with others in positive ways. Non-verbal cues make up around 85% of what we communicate to each other. Our mind, body, and language work together to create interactions with others.
When evaluating a child’s sociability, keep in mind that many inherent factors play a vital role, namely a child’s personality. Personality is established through a combination of temperament and environment. Temperament is part of a child’s innate personality, which is apparent early in a child’s life. A child’s temperament will help determine how they interact socially with other children. Are they extroverts or introverts? Do they thrive in social situations with many children? Or do they do better small groups? A child’s temperament cannot change. However, children can learn to manage their temperament and adapt to different situations. Children learn concretely . Their perceptions about the world are based upon their immediate, physical experiences. Parents should model proper behavior with consistency and predictability.
Preparing Children for Social Success
Set children up for success as much as possible. When thinking about social goals for a child, consider his or her current social skill. When choosing a camp, think about whether a child would be over-stimulated by a camp with too many activities. Perhaps they prefer a camp where children spend a great deal of time in nature. Would the child benefit more from a structured camp that is academic or a sports-based? What is the ratio of counselors to students? How would the camp respond to the child’s temperament?
Prepare and practice with the child before making commitments. Visit the camp or any summer social situation prior to the start date. Make the child’s goals very clear. Most children are visual learners and will benefit from a chart or list of objectives. Reward the child for accomplishments.
When attending social gatherings with children, prepare them for a variety of situations. When going to a family dinner, the child’s goal might be to use appropriate greetings. First, model the behavior to the child. Second, rehearse the behavior and “act” it out with the child using tools such as puppets or role-plays. Third, reward them for accomplishments once they practice and successfully attend the event.
Teaching Sensitive Children
Expose sensitive child more slowly to social situations. Prepare them for any uncertainties and recognize when they is becoming over-aroused. Prevent over-arousal in social situations through careful planning and being on step ahead. State realistic standards for the child prior to the event. Prepare the child through visual strategies. Teach the child to warn everyone when they have reached their limit. Teach self-calming techniques to prevent this from happening in the future.
Sensitive children experience spill-over tantrums. They need a parent’s direction to calm them down and regain self-control. After a social situation, these children need time to process the day’s events with a parent. Ask a sensitive child how their day was once they are ready to talk. Learn to anticipate emotional reactions and offer empathy. After the tantrum, acknowledge to the child any bits of self-control they did portray. Remind the child that emotional reactions are a choice.
Children with sensitive or intense temperaments need soothing or calming activities after a social situation. Calming activities include water during bath time and using their imagination. Allow sensitive children a chance to process the day’s events. Encourage them to act out skits and tell stories to explain their day. Sensitive children also enjoy sensory activities such as play-dough, silly putty, marbles, sand, pom-poms, and cooking. Use soothing activities that allow them to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see things. Use reading and humor to diffuse their emotional intensity. Do not use time-outs of a punishment, but rather as a safe place to calm down physically and mentally.
If a child is still struggles despite preparation and intervention, perhaps they would benefit from professional help from a therapist or a social skills group.
Natasha Edelhaus is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Stoughton, MA. She works with individuals, families and runs social skills groups. She can be reached at (781) 708-4504.
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