4 Parts of a Conversation: How to Help Kids With Social Skills Issues Navigate

At a Glance

  • Navigating a conversation can be difficult for kids with social skills issues.
  • Different skills are required for various parts of a conversation.
  • You can help your child get better at joining, starting, maintaining and ending conversations.

For most people, having a conversation is easy. We don’t think about having to make appropriate comments or how to join in when other people are talking. But for kids with social skills issues, the normal flow of conversation can be hard.

Important skills, like reading body language and knowing what to say (and when to say it), don’t come easily to them. Here’s a look at the four parts of a conversation, the skills involved, and how to help your child navigate each one.

1. Joining a Conversation

Group conversations are tricky because there’s more than one person to connect with. Each person has a unique personality and communication style. The group itself has a unique way of functioning, based on who’s in it and what’s being discussed.

Skills involved:

  • Reading the body language of the group to know if it’s appropriate to join in.
  • Using the right phrases to ask to be included.
  • Understanding the tone of voice people use when they aren’t OK with you joining.
  • Knowing what’s being discussed, and staying on topic.

Why it might be hard: Trouble reading body language can keep kids from knowing if a conversation is private or open. They may also misunderstand the rhythm of the conversation. Is the pause in talking a natural lull? Or is someone just taking time to breathe? And some kids don’t get that they need to talk about the topic at hand to join a conversation.

How to help:

  • Use videos, TV shows or real-life events to point out situations where a group is turned away or talking privately. Also, point out when people in a conversation are looking around and seem open to others joining.
  • Model for your child how to wait for a break in the flow of conversation and then ask a question, like “Is it OK if I join you?”
  • Remind your child to listen and say something related to what others are saying. Your child can use “wh” questions (who, what, when, where and why) to get up to speed.

2. Starting a Conversation

Launching a conversation involves a number of steps. To be successful at it, you have to do them all correctly. The first step is often the hardest: figuring out if this is the right time to have a conversation.

Skills involved:

  • Knowing to start with a greeting, and having the language to do that.
  • Recognizing if it’s an appropriate time to have a conversation.
  • Choosing an appropriate topic and having phrases to open the dialogue.
  • Recognizing nonverbal cues that show if the other person is interested and wants to talk.

Why it might be hard: Kids who are impulsive may burst into a conversation without any greeting. They may act like the other person already knows what they’re thinking. Some kids may not be able to read the “feel” of a room to know if it’s a good time to start a conversation. And once they start, they may not pick up on signs that the person isn’t interested in talking.

How to help:

  • Teach basic greeting phrases to use with familiar people (“Hi, how are you?”) and with unfamiliar people (“Hi, I’m Joe—I’m Miranda’s neighbor”).
  • Show your child what someone’s body language looks like when the person does and doesn’t want to talk. Also show examples of a neutral or uncomfortable facethat might mean a lack of interest.

3. Maintaining a Conversation

The work doesn’t stop once kids with social skills challenges enter a conversation. Continuing the conversation can be difficult, too. It requires following a number of social rules—and not just for a minute or two.

Skills involved:

  • Knowing how to take turns in a conversation.
  • Listening to what the other person says and responding appropriately.
  • Being able to stay on topic.
  • Reading body language, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.

Why it can be hard: Impulsivity may cause kids to blurt something out or interrupt when they’re excited about a topic. Trouble with nonverbal cues may keep them from realizing that the other person is trying to speak or is losing interest. Kids also might be so stuck on one thought that they can’t let go of it.

How to help:

  • Teach your child how to ask follow-up questions to show he’s heard and is interested in what the other person is saying. Give him scripted examples to practice and use.
  • Help your child practice keeping a thought in mind instead of blurting it out. Let him know it’s OK to say, “Remind me that I wanted to say something about that once you’re done,” if he’s worried he’ll forget his point.
  • Brainstorm words or phrases he can use to show he’s paying attention during conversation, like “right” or “that’s cool.” Make sure he knows he needs to mix them up a little because saying the same thing over and over can sound like he’s not paying attention.
  • Role-play and demonstrate how saying something off-topic or at the wrong time can sound like he’s not interested in what someone else is talking about.

4. Ending a Conversation

Ending a conversation can be as challenging as starting one. You have to read the situation correctly to know if it’s the right time to wrap it up. And then, you have to have the words to end it appropriately.

Skills involved:

  • Reading body language, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.
  • Making sense of tone of voice and other verbal cues.
  • Being aware of how your own verbal and nonverbal cues may look to others (perspective-taking).
  • Conveying intent through language. (For example, “Well, I have to go now.”)

Why it can be challenging: Since many kids with social skills issues have trouble reading body language, they may not recognize that a person is no longer interested or needs to end a conversation. Kids who are impulsive or who struggle with communication skills may also end a conversation abruptly without saying “goodbye,” just walking away or hanging up the phone.

How to help:

  • Demonstrate some of the nonverbal cues your child may see when someone is trying to end a conversation, like checking the time, turning away or yawning.
  • Teach your child some of the verbal cues that show someone is trying to end a conversation, such as not answering questions, saying they should go or saying things like “So…” or “Well….”
  • Explain that your child can use these cues to end a conversation, too.
  • Teach phrases your child can use to know if the conversation is over. One example is: “Are you OK to keep talking, or do you need to leave?”
  • Help your child learn and practice how to close with a sentence like “It was good talking to you,” or “Well, I have to get going now,” before walking away.

For kids with social skills issues, learning the art of conversation takes lots of direct instruction and practice. So it’s important to be patient, and know that you may have to reinforce these skills over and over.

Learn more about what trouble picking up on social cues can look like in different grades. Read how a mom got her son to stop interrupting. And find out how the “chicken wing” rule can help kids learn to respect personal space during conversations.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding body language, facial expressions and tone of voice are key conversation skills.
  • Being familiar with nonverbal cues, like when someone looks around or checks the time, can help your child know when it’s a good time to join or end a conversation.
  • Learning the art of conversation takes a lot of practice, so it’s important to be patient with your child.

 

The source can be found here.

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5 ways to help an anxious child

We all know that anxiety can be present at any age, even in very young children. As they grow, most children follow a “normal” developmental trajectory in terms of anxiety manifestations. In simple terms, since anxiety is part of childhood development, we can expect to see children deal with it at different stages. The most common form of anxiety seen in children is separation anxiety. Others will develop signs and symptoms associated with more severe anxiety. As early childhood educators, you may have observed persistent signs associated with anxiety in children. You may even have felt powerless when you faced anxiety-related behaviors. There is no miracle recipe. However, certain strategies can be considered to help children in general, particularly those who may experience more serious symptoms.

A healthy lifestyle at its best

A rested, well-fed child who has a consistent schedule and healthy, balanced lifestyle habits may, over time, demonstrate fewer anxiety-related signs and behaviors. Anxiety tends to increase during times of stress or during periods when a child is more tired. For this reason, be sure to create a stable routine that leaves plenty of time for rest. Alternate between calm and active games and activities. Watch for signs. You may have to temporarily reorganize your schedule to fulfill the needs of your group if children need more rest.

Balance “reassurance” and “overprotectiveness”

When we intervene with an anxious child, reassuring him about his fears is extremely important. The same is true for future events. With an anxious child, you must aim to prepare him for unforeseeable events as much as possible. However, be very careful. Do not become overprotective. Try to find the middle ground between reassuring the child and preventing him from taking initiatives and developing a go-getter attitude. In the same way, make sure you aren’t helping the child avoid all situations that may cause anxiety or increase his level of anxiety. Instead, simply accompany the child whenever he is facing an anxiety-inducing situation.

Foster self-esteem

Self-esteem is built day by day. The more confident a child is, the more he will believe in his ability to succeed. His level of anxiety will most likely go down. Make a point of positively reinforcing an anxious child. Set him up for success and show him you have faith in his abilities…and your own. Keep in mind that children learn by example and you are an important role model.

Plan for what’s coming

Of course, we can’t plan everything. Nonetheless, integrating an illustrated schedule and announcing field trips and special activities ahead of time can help children feel prepared to face what’s coming. All children need to be reassured whenever they face unfamiliar people or activities. Explaining how and when things are going to occur will help an anxious child. Aim to use visual tools as often as possible.

Acceptance

Each child is unique. If an anxious child feels accepted despite his anxiety, it will be much easier for him to grow and evolve. Accompany an anxious child as much as possible.

With your help, an anxious child can tackle the challenges associated with his anxiety.

The source can be found here.

The confusion between accommodation and remediation

“I wish I knew this at the beginning of the school year!” How many times have you realized that you could have done things differently as a parent, had you had better knowledge about your kid’s learning and development?

In this article, I would like to explain the differences between two critical terms: accommodation and remediation. These two terms often remain under-the-radar in many parent-teacher meetings and are the cause of fruitless attempts of improving students’ performance in school. Throughout my work as an educational specialist, I meet with many parents who are faced with many challenges in helping their children succeed with tasks that require cognitive/executive functions. These kids face different kinds of issues on a daily basis. The main two being homework and class performance.

Nevertheless, those issues surface much more in school than at home. Therefore, teacher-parent collaboration is essential. In the absence of effective cooperation, many parents end up feeling hopeless as they see how their children are not fulfilling their true potential as individuals and as learners. Many parents share with me their willingness to cooperate and meet with the school’s demands, but the issues seem to persist; they keep on getting negative reports from the teachers. Nothing seems to be working.

To learn more about their children, I ask parents many different questions seeking to clarify the areas of struggle.
For example, one parent explained to me how his son can read a chapter from the textbook but cannot recall what he read shortly after. A more significant problem emerged when the child started avoiding learning and showing outburst of anger. When the school administrator contacted the parents, the conversation revolved around the behavior and conclusion that the student might have ADHD or dyslexia [or both]. The teacher reported many ways to differentiate the teaching, some of which include moving the student’s seat closer to the board, breaking the tasks down into smaller tasks, and even working with the student one-on-one during lunch time. All these attempts ended up fruitless. The school’s recommendation was to send the student for an evaluation. Sadly, no one suggested discussing a plan of action to remediate to the child’s weak working memory, an essential executive function.

Parents know that when the issue pertains to their children their ability to control their emotions becomes compromised rapidly; some even admit that they feel physical aching during those meetings in school. Another ability that is weakened during these situations relates to asking the right questions, one of which could be the school’s ability to help the child.

If we want to help struggling students, we must clarify two types of appropriate supports. Theses supports fall into two categories: accommodation and remediation. Parents should find out whether the teacher and/or school are able and ready to provide students with these kinds of support. Some schools do so as part of their teaching style, other schools do not. Accommodation means providing support for the sake of achieving a result. For example, erecting a wheelchair ramp at the entrance of the City Hall is a support for the disables who needs to enter the building. Another example, when my student broke his finger in basketball practice, the nurse recommended that he will type his class-notes on the computer. These two cases are examples of accommodations where support is available for one to attain his/her goal. These accommodations are not meant to heal the disability nor the finger of my student. It will, nevertheless, help them achieve what they need to get.

In contrast to accommodation, remediation deals with the healing of the problem. The word remediation stems from the Latin word, remedialis, which means “healing, curing.” For example, a student who suffers from test anxiety and resorts to procrastination will benefit from sessions with a coach or a counselor who will help the student find out about causes and together form effective solutions. Moreover, the student may discover that her test anxiety stems from a fear of failure. The work with a coach will then focus on flexibility and problem-solving skills.

Another example of remediation could be a student with dyscalculia who struggles with understanding number-related concepts. It was the Kindergarten teacher who noticed the problem first. However, due to the child’s ability to remember answers rather than understand processes, the issue surfaced only in fourth grade. At that juncture, the teacher, who did not know the previous teachers, allowed the student to use a calculator in class. After a whole year of using a calculator, the student arrived in 5th grade unaware of the concept of place value. Needless to mention his arithmetic skills were below grade level. To remediate the student problem of dyscalculia, his 5th grade Math teacher will have to find the exact problem or use the student’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) to remediate a few years of Math deficit.

As you may realize, the ramifications of addressing a problem with accommodation rather than remediation can create a cycle of unproductive efforts and growing frustration. I have seen many parents who could not accept the idea that their child will be better off in a different school. These parents perceived their conversations with the school as utter humiliation. Unfortunately, there is a bad stigma for specialized schools. Even though these schools are fully equipped and dedicated for remediation, many parents still perceive specialized schools as institutes for troubled kids.

There are instances where accommodation is the best alternative, but in some instances remediation is the best option. Every parent should seek to understand the balance between these two approaches. The possibility of a blend of the two can also be explored.

Accommodation and remediation are thus two critical terms parents ought to know and understand. For students with learning disabilities, it is always better to inquire with the teacher about the difficulties of the student. Try to look for the facts. You would also want to remind yourself that managing your emotions during the meetings with the school’s representative will help you stay focused and ask the right questions. In addition, taking notes on the conversation will help you remember the key points when you follow up with the grade advisor or the school psychologist for further inquiry. Some of your questions should include trying to understand in which classes your child misbehaves or does not meet class expectations. Ask about the learning activities and the work environment. Find out about the activities your child performs rather well. Finally, ask what you can do at home to support the teacher’s endeavors and your child’s learning.

Showing curiosity and empathy with the teachers have proven to be very helpful. You do not have to agree with them, but mutual respect will surely enhance effective communication and progress. Understanding the differences between accommodation and remediation should change the way you encounter your child’s learning endeavors in school and home as well. Maintaining frequent communication with your child’s teachers by asking relevant questions will help you focus your efforts and resources effectively.

I wish you and your children a happy and successful first semester! Please remember that you can contact me with questions at contact@mrmizrahi.com.

Thank you,

Benjamin Mizrahi

Birthday Cake

Yesterday, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday.
For this special occasion, we decided to let her make her own birthday cake. It took more time to make but it was definitely worth the lesson!

Benjamin2

Gratitude is one of the trickiest concepts to teach toddlers and preschoolers — who are by nature self-centered — but one of the most important. By learning gratitude, they become sensitive to the feelings of others, developing empathy and other life skills along the way. Grateful kids look outside their one-person universe and understand that their parents and other people do things for them — prepare dinner, dole out hugs, buy toys.
By participating in simple household chores like feeding the dog or stacking dirty dishes on the counter, kids realize that all these things take effort.

How to Teach Gratitude:

Children model their parents in every way, so make sure you use “please” and “thank you” when you talk to them. (“Thanks for that hug — it made me feel great!”) Insist on their using the words, too.

  • Work gratitude into your daily conversation. Try to weave appreciation for mundane things into your everyday talk: “We’re so lucky to have a good cat like Eliott!” “Aren’t the colors in the sunset amazing?” “I’m so happy when you listen!”  When you reinforce an idea frequently, it’s more likely to stick. One way to turn up the gratitude in your house is to pick a “thanking” part of the day. Make saying what good things happened today part of the dinnertime conversation.
  • Have kids help. It happens to all of us: You give your child a chore, but it’s too agonizing watching him a) take forever to clear the table or b) make a huge mess mixing the pancake batter. The temptation is always to step in and do it yourself. But the more you do for them, the less they appreciate your efforts. (Don’t you feel more empathy for people who work outside on cold days when you’ve just been out shoveling snow yourself?) By participating in simple household chores like feeding the dog or stacking dirty dishes on the counter, kids realize that all these things take effort.
  • Find a goodwill project. That doesn’t mean you need to drag your toddler off to a soup kitchen every week. Instead, figure out some way he can actively participate in helping someone else, even if it’s as simple as making cupcakes for a sick neighbor. “As you’re stirring the batter or adding sprinkles,” talk about how you’re making them for a special person, and how happy the recipient will be.
  • Encourage generosity. Instead of throwing things away, donate toys and clothes to less fortunate kids.
  • Insist on thank-you notes. Just the act of saying out loud why he loved the gift will make him feel more grateful.
  • Practice saying no. Of course, kids ask for toys, video games, and candy — sometimes on an hourly basis. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful when your every whim is granted. Saying no a lot makes saying yes that much sweeter.
  • Be patient. You can’t expect gratitude to develop overnight — it requires weeks, months, even years of reinforcement. But trust me, you will be rewarded.

 

Benjamin3

 

 

Source: parents.com

Conference in Morroco

Last week, I gave a conference at @mazaganbeachresort about Executive Functions.
By popular demand, I gave a second lecture on the next day. Both lectures provided parents with the understanding of Executive Functions and its impact on our daily experience as parents. I also presented various strategies to enhance its development by using the ABC approach (Antecedent, Behavior and Consequences).

It was a pleasure to visit such a beautiful country. I want to thank @sarahtours_koshertrip for inviting me to speak.

I will give a private conference next week in Englewood, NJ.

Stay tuned for more dates. .

Improve Working Memory

Notepad...Working memory is the ability to keep things in mind while performing an activity. It helps in remembering while you are in the process of learning. It involves the maintenance of information in mind so that an individual can use it for planning, learning, reasoning, and producing a result. Working memory helps to hold a thought or long-term memory in mind so you can act more efficiently in the present moment. For example, working memory might involve shutting off a television and remembering to gather one’s coat and backpack before leaving a friend’s house. Improve working memory by following our recommendations below.

Home and School Situations Requiring Working Memory

  • Taking notes in class
  • Recalling plans made or an assignment due date
  • Remembering the rules to a game or sport while playing
  • Following multi-step directions at both school and at home
  • Doing math computations in one’s head
  • Recalling answers to reading comprehension questions
  • Remembering a list of chores, items, or tasks

Hints and Strategies to Improve Working Memory

1. Simplify directions as much as possible. Your child will be more likely to recall short, simple, and direct instructions. For example, saying, “When you finish those two math worksheets, you can watch one episode of ‘Adventure Time’,” is much more direct than saying “When you finish your homework you can watch some TV.”

2. Encourage your child to seek assistance from others. Emphasize to your child that it is acceptable to ask the teacher to repeat instructions or to ask a classmate to borrow their notes. Role-play these scenarios at home so that your child will feel comfortable when the situation arises.

3. Find a mode of technology that is helpful to your child. For example, use a tape recorder to record notes or directions, or a cell-phone to program in reminders and scheduling changes. Digital picture frames can show a sequence of activities that are easily forgotten, such as eating breakfast, putting dishes away, and washing up.

4. Practice verbal memory like rehearsal, chunking, or mnemonic devices. Help your child to rehearse by whispering directions or lists to him/herself. Also, practice chunking devices that can help your child to whittle down two-step instructions to one, such as brushing her teeth and washing her face together. Mnemonic devices can be especially helpful, such as how ROY G BIV is often used to recall the colors of the rainbow in order.

5. Practice reading comprehension. Read the same material as your child and then have a brief discussion about it. This may help to increase your child’s focus and stretch their memory as an active component of working memory skills.

6. Showcase your own working memory difficulties by dramatizing your strategies to compensate for them. Many adults report difficulties with working memory in simple tasks such as remembering what they meant to do when they went into the kitchen or leaving the house and forgetting something important. Use compensatory strategies such as making notes, using Post-its, asking someone else to give a reminder, or doing something immediately when it comes to mind. Exaggerating and dramatizing your strategies for compensating your own working memory difficulties may be helpful for a child who has similar difficulties.

7. Select video games for your child that require the use of working memory skills.Brain training games, such as “Mind Quiz” and “Brain Age 2,” require the use of working memory skills and visual memory tasks. Other longer narrative games, such as “The Legend of Zelda” series, require the player to keep in mind incidents and objects from earlier in the game in order to be successful in strategies on later levels. Most importantly, try and get your child to recognize how memory skills can help in games and encourage your child to try out different strategies. These strategies can include the following: visualizing what (s)he needs to remember, over-learning math facts so that they become automatic, and repeating things out loud. These strategies may help your child in a number of memory tasks.

Games and Activities That Can Practice Working Memory

Playing board games – Most board games require players to use working memory to recall rules, remember whose turn it is, and relate the spin or roll to the appropriate move. Asking your child to help you remember what happens next in the game will even further improve this working memory activity.

Grocery shopping trip – Ask your child to help you keep track of the next three or four items you have to find. Have your child count them as you find each one.

“Memory” – This card game challenges players to match pairs of cards by turning them over two at a time while they are face down, allowing your child to practice his working memory skills.

“I packed my suitcase” Game – Players in this game have to picture and remember an increasing list of items. One child starts by saying, “I packed my suitcase and in it I put a toothbrush.” The next player repeats that phrase and then adds another item. This game can continue for as long as the players enjoy adding more items, and remember what came before what they’re about to say next.

“Big Brain Academy” – This game requires your child to keep facts in mind in order to successfully play the game.

 

Source can be found here.

How Can I Help My Kids Develop Better Social Skills?

Today, I wanted to share with you a great article I found on LifeHacker which talks about how you can help your kids develop better social skills:

“… Your children’s social development will be a critical part of their success and happiness as they get older—even more important than their academic skills or intelligence. (Also, no one wants to be that parent who’s raised “Mean Girls”-like bullies.) You have a chance now to greatly influence your kids’ social intelligence and teach them things even we awkward adults are still perfecting, like how to build friendships and deal with rejection. They’re important lessons we all keep learning, and the sooner we start, the better.

The Social Skills All Kids Need to Learn

It seems like some kids (or people of any age) are more naturally socially adept than others—you know, the kind of people others gravitate to and for whom making friends comes easily. Don’t worry if your children don’t fit that mold or aren’t winning any popularity contests. Like any other skill, social skills can be learned, and, besides that, “being social” or outgoing isn’t the end goal in itself.

What is important, however, is that kids are able to form meaningful bonds with others, can empathize and interact with others appropriately, and have the skills to adapt in uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, as the University of Memphis points out:

Many students do not know how to handle interpersonal social situations that involve following directions, holding a proper conversation, listening, giving compliments, proper behavior during transition times, teasing, bullying, or just “hanging out” with friends.

Those are basic skills we want all kids to be able to have. Depending on your children’s ages, they might also need more specific social skills.

Skills for Preschool and Elementary School Kids

Vanderbilt University found the top 10 social skills kids need to succeed in school, based on surveys of 8,000 elementary teachers and two decades of classroom research, are:

  • Listen to others
  • Follow the steps
  • Follow the rules
  • Ignore distractions
  • Ask for help
  • Take turns when you talk
  • Get along with others
  • Stay calm with others
  • Be responsible for your behavior
  • Do nice things for others

These might seem like social skills promoted just to turn out “nice girls and boys” who earn the “gets along with others” check on their report cards, but they’re fundamental behaviors that help kids succeed (not just survive) in a world that emphasizes social norms. The goal isn’t just to make them cooperative, but to hone their social GPS so they can both advocate for themselves and care for others. (Heck, we probably all know a few adults who could stand to learn many of these skills too.)

Social Skills for Pre-Teens and Teens

Older kids, in middle school and high school, have more complex social skills to learn, thanks to growing peer pressure and that simply awkward period called adolescence. It’s a time when they’re becoming more independent, but everyone’s forming cliques; when they’re making big decisions about who they are and what they want to be, but also might start to care a bit too much about what others think.

  • Set personal goals
  • Identify and change self-defeating behaviors
  • Be assertive about his or her needs
  • Have feelings for others
  • Handle anger constructively
  • Resolve conflicts peacefully

It’s easy to say a toddler should learn how to follow directions or a young adult should know how to be assertive; it’s another to know how to best help them do that. So let’s look at a few strategies.

Model Social Skills

The first place we learn social skills, of course, is at home, and what we do as parents is more important than what we say. As All I Really Needed to Learn in Kindergarten author Robert Fulghum says, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

Modeling positive social skills includes showing confidence ourselves when we relate to others, being friendly to strangers, offering to help others, and also treating our kids with respect (no matter how much they might be pulling at our last straw). Dr. Laura Markham writes on Aha! Parenting:

Teach your child that people are important. All parents have to choose their battles, so put up with messiness and dawdling if you must, but teach your child consideration for others. Model it for him early on, praise it, help him brainstorm to solve peer problems, and don’t let your child intentionally or unintentionally disrespect another person. It you can’t confront it as it happens without embarrassing your child, be sure to talk about it later. As kids get older, you may need to be very explicit about insisting that they acknowledge adults in their presence, as well as other kids. Often preteens and young adolescents need to be reminded of this, and to be given coaching on how to handle interactions that feel awkward to them.

The funny thing about being a parent is it forces you out of your shell and can help you become a better person through analyzing your own behaviors and attitudes. In a great article summarizing research on children’s social skills, Auburn University professors Jacquelyn Mize and Ellen Abell write:

Parents of these socially competent children endorse interpretations of social events that encourage resilient, constructive attitudes (Mize, Pettit, Lindsey, & Laird, 1993). Rather than making a statement such as, “That’s a really mean kid!” they may say something like, “Gosh, maybe he’s having a hard day.” They make constructive attributions such as, “Sometimes kids just want to play by themselves,” rather than expressing a sentiment like, ‘They’re not very nice if they won’t let you play.” These parents avoid defeatist comments such as “Maybe they don’t like you,” and offer instead suggestions like, “Maybe they don’t want to play that, but there might be something else they think is fun.” Such positive, constructive statements encourage children to take an optimistic view of others and themselves as play partners. They reflect an upbeat, resilient attitude toward social setbacks and the belief that social situations can be improved with effort and positive behavior.

Don’t Label Shy Kids

If your kids are naturally shy or feel insecure, try not to label them as such or try to force them out of their shyness. Instead, if your child is socially anxious, Dr. Markham recommends empathy and a problem-solving approach:

Don’t label your child as shy. Instead, acknowledge his feelings and point out that he can overcome his fears. For instance, “Sometimes it takes you awhile to warm up in a new situation. Remember Billy’s birthday party, how you held my hand all through the games? But by the end, you were having lots of fun with the other kids.”

Teach your child effective strategies for dealing with shyness. The general rule of thumb is to accept the nervousness that comes up as a part of normal life that affects most people, reassure yourself that you’re ok anyway, and focus on others rather than yourself. For instance, remind your child that she doesn’t have to be interesting, just interested, and teach her to ask other kids questions and listen to their answers. Brainstorm with her how she might handle a situation that makes her nervous.

Another reason not to label young people as shy is it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was told I was shy as a child, when really I think I was just naturally quiet and introverted. Having that label, though, led to me feeling tense and anxious during social situations—true shyness, which often starts out as a reinforced habit.

Give Plenty of Opportunities to Practice Social Behaviors

Kids learn social skills first from you, but then to a large degree from their peers. The more chances kids have to interact with others, the better.

That means supporting and encouraging kids’ friendships—even if it means you become Dad Taxi Service or have to spend playdate time, as Louis CK laments, with kids and parents you couldn’t care less about.

Kids also will learn crucial skills from simply playing with you. According to Dr. Mize and Dr. Abell, the research suggests that children whose parents frequently play with them have more advanced social skills and get along better with their peers. It’s especially true if you play with them on their level, following their lead and in a “peer-like” way:

Children benefit from this type of play for several reasons. From balanced, responsive play with a parent, children may learn many of the skills commonly displayed by the socially competent preschoolers described earlier. In addition, when parents are responsive to children’s play ideas, children may come to feel that they are good, effective play partners and thus are eager to play with peers. Finally, fun, balanced parent-child play may instill that positive outlook toward others that makes children look forward to play opportunities with people outside the family.

Parenting Science has a few social skill activities you can do with your kids (school-aged and teens) based on research—and they’re actually fun games like charades.

Relax

All that said, chances are your kids are learning positive social skills the way most of us do, simply as we go along and through trial and error. Don’t worry or try to intervene too much unless there are serious signs of social trouble (for example, if your kid’s teacher warns of discipline problems). Most kids are insensitive (or even unkind) or socially clumsy sometimes.

Here are some signs that your child might need more social coaching(from you and/or teachers):

  • Lacks at least one or two close mutual friends
  • Has trouble losing or winning gracefully
  • Doesn’t show empathy when others are hurt or rejected
  • Acts bossy or insists on own way a lot
  • Can’t seem to start or maintain a conversation
  • Uses a louder voice than most children
  • Seems constantly ignored or victimized by other children or constantly teases or annoys other children

In those cases, you’ll want to take a more active approach to helping your kids with their “interpersonal skills.” Otherwise, just keep playing with your kids, being a model of social grace, and helping them build their relationships.