Social skills are an important skill that can help your child succeed in all aspects of his life. From school to jobs and family relationships, social skills allow us to bond with others as well as make positive contributions to people in our environments. As your child grows, so does his social awareness and skills. However, for a child with special needs, learning social skills and forging new friendships can be stressful and scary. As a parent, there are several ways you can help teach and encourage your child to overcome his fear and help him gain the confidence to create and maintain friendships and positive social interactions.
Children with special needs often have trouble expressing their own emotions, and recognizing emotions in others. Since emotions are the cornerstone to a successful social interaction, helping your child become aware and properly able to identify different emotions in herself and others, is vital to her having successful relationships. Incorporating “emotions” as the theme for popular games such as charades, bingo, or matching, is a fun way to help introduce different emotions to her. Since repetition is important, simple, kid-friendly games like these, will help enforce the subject without having them quickly become boring or tiring.
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Keep the conversation flowing with your child. Since she is more comfortable with you, incorporate good communication and social skills when talking to her. Keep good eye contact, show emotion, and ask questions to drive the conversation along. Listening and showing interest in her when she talks helps teach her good listening skills. You, as her parent, are the best model for good communication and social skills.
Giving A Helping Hand
Your child may need a little “nudge” when it comes to making new friends. He may be scared or self-conscious, and low self-esteem can prevent him from making the first move. You can support him and lend a helping hand by creating “playdates”, or by having him participate in certain events.
Use his strengths and likes to create playdates or place him in certain environments. If he loves to read, take him to a children’s reading group at your local library. If art is more his style, sign him up for a kid’s art class. Being around other kids with similar interests automatically provides a subject for conversation, and a great starting point to creating positive interactions. His teachers can also give valuable insight. Ask if there are any children in his class that he seems to get along with or connect with particularly well. Keep those suggestions in mind when setting up playdates. Create playdates around universally liked activities, such as going to the park or having a “create your own ice-cream sundae” mini social. At first keep playdates small with only one or two other kids. As he becomes more confident you can slowly add more people.
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Learning and maintaining good social skills for your child will require practice, patience, and most importantly, adaptability. While it is important to help her improve her social skills, and create good relationships, know her limits. If she begins to get frustrated or upset, it may be beneficial to take a step back and re-evaluate. If things don’t go as well as planned or wanted, there are always other days and playdate opportunities for you to try again.
Teaching Social Skills to Children
Shandy Marso, Contributor