Don’t assume your child knows what to do or say at the next family gathering, friend’s birthday party, or other social situation. Prepare them in advance using these tips.
A few weeks before Christmas, I asked my kids, “What would you say if someone gave you a gift you didn’t really like?”
They looked at me wide-eyed and confused.
Can we say something? Is that OK?
I continued, “It’s a tricky situation. You don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings. And you don’t want to lie. And you also don’t want to be rude. What can we do!?”
We talked through some options together and role-played giving and receiving random household objects, “An old spatula! Thank you. I do love to cook.”
I reminded them that they could talk to me about their true feelings afterward and that we would work through the problem together.
This is just one of a million tricky social situations our kids will encounter. Think about it: birthday parties, holidays, family gatherings, playdates, field trips, award ceremonies, sporting events, band concerts…the list goes on and on.
Rather than crossing our fingers and hoping our kids make it through without any major social blunders, let’s empower them with information ahead of time.
5 Tips for empowering your kids
Talk about what to expect. Give your child as many details as possible, taking into account their personality, age, and developmental stage. If there is anything important about the event, let your child know in advance. Who will be there? What will they be expected to wear? How long will the event last? What time are you leaving? Will there be food? Will they need to wait to eat?
Name experiences. Social situations can stir up a variety of emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts. Before going into the event, talk about things that may come up for your child. “It might be hard to wait for the yummy birthday cake!” Or, “Sometimes it’s really loud when all of the kids are in the basement.” Or, “The nursing home may smell different than our house.”
Give them scripts. Think about potentially tricky conversations your child may have with other people at the event and role-play options together. What would you like your child to say when they arrive at the party? How do they let you know they’re ready to go? What can they tell a friend who is sitting too close? How do they politely refuse to play a game?
Be proactive. Even with practice, your child may still need your support. If you notice your child’s energy level is ramping up, you may want to help them find a quiet place to calm down. You may need to bring a snack to keep them full until the food is served. And, you may need to help them communicate their needs or navigate a tricky conversation if they get stuck.
Expect imperfection. Sometimes, things will go amazingly well and other times, your child will be kicking and screaming as you carry them to the car. Sometimes they will graciously thank the host, and other times they will complain about the cake. Remind yourself that their behavior does not define you as a parent. Your child is growing and maturing. There will be plenty of opportunities to practice in the future.
These conversations happen more than once. Kids need to be reminded and they need to practice often. The conversations grow and change as your kids enter new and more challenging situations. The scripts become more nuanced. And, eventually, our kids join us in the problem solving and planning.
Leaving them feeling empowered and ready to tackle anything that comes their way!
My friend Janine Halloran has helpful tips for learning social skills through play click here
How Can I Help?
It’s not always easy to know how to prepare our kids for tricky social situations. If you’d like to talk it through together, I’m here to help. Learn more about online parent coaching sessions here.
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