Secrets of Social Success

(Part 3 on finding the right extra-curricular activities)

By Kathy Kuhl

Last time, I wrote about helping your child with learning challenges get ready for their new group (a club, scouts, choir, or the like.)

But for some kids, getting the work done and getting the gear together is the easy part. It’s the social piece that needs your attention and support. For that, you can train your child and get an assist from the group activity leader.

Here are simple steps to help your child prepare socially. For distractible kids, those with communication disorders, or anyone prone to miss social cues, try these tips:

1) Don’t’ try to fix every social problem at once. That won’t work. It will increase stress. If your child interrupts everyone, monologues, and doesn’t notice when he or she bumps into people, pick one area to begin with and teach him or her one or two strategies.

For the child who treats every meeting like a private conversation with the leaders, say “Before you ask, ask yourself, ‘Can this wait until after the meeting is over?’” Practice at home during supper.

A friend tells me their family dinner rule is that each one can say three sentences, then someone else gets a turn speaking. Try that or have a pretend club meeting in the car. Then discuss what speaking was appropriate and what wasn’t.

For child who is easily upset by teasing, take a tip from Carol Barnier. She wrote a great post, titled “You are not a fish,” helping kids to recognize and not to take the bait when teased by peers.

2. Cheer for them. Did you hear your daughter speaking kindly to another girl in the troop? Did your son remember not to yell when teased? Compliment them on the way home.

3. Coach them. If you know your child has to work with someone, role-play. Talk about what to do if your child and another are planning meals for a camping trip and disagree. If you’ve overheard a disastrous exchange with another child, wait for tempers to calm, and replay the conversation with alternative endings. Help them learn from mistakes.

Don’t just help your child prepare socially. Help the leaders. Coaches, scoutmasters, den mothers, and every leader you know, probably needs help. Can you make phone calls for them, help with paperwork, bring refreshments, chaperone a trip?

Also help them understand your child. They don’t need you to give them a twenty-minute lecture on your child’s disability, or learning difference. (Though I’d bet that you, like me, could probably give a decent lecture in your sleep.)

Short, practical nuggets help: “Katie’s hyperactive, so is it okay if she stands while the group makes plans? If she gets antsy, you might send her on an errand or give her something to do with her hands. Moving helps her focus.” Another time (remember, give nuggets, not lectures), you could say, “I appreciate your patience with Sam. Movement helps him pay attention. You might ask the whole group how fast they can do 25 jumping jacks. That’d help him and the others burn off extra energy.” Or “Jon brought his squeeze ball. If he can fiddle with it while you’re talking, it helps him listen.” Or “I appreciate all your work. Madison’s dyslexic. Can she finish the book work at home? I can scan and email it to you tomorrow.”

My favorite book on coaching and equipping your kids socially is Cathi Cohen’s Raise Your Child’s Social IQ, which I reviewed here. Though designed to help parents with kids in school, it applies to many situations.

Question: What are your best tips for helping a child with challenges fit into a group activity? Please post in the comments below.

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