All children face social challenges as a normal part of growing up but for those lacking basic skills or plagued by severe anxiety, successfully relating to peers can feel like a hopeless pursuit to be avoided at all costs. Parents can play a vital role in turning this around. By effectively tapping into their own network of friends and family, utilizing the resources available in the larger community, and successfully partnering with professionals in the child’s school, parents can minimize problematic situations, expand opportunities and effectively enhance their child’s social development.
The previous post focused on family and friends, this one discusses community and school resources. You can download the full copy for print.
Tapping into Community Resources
Many community organizations seek family involvement. Houses of worship are the most obvious examples. Most try to incorporate fun into the children’s religious and cultural instruction and offer a range of family events throughout the year. Social challenges are reduced by easy access to adults to help settle arguments and discourage teasing.
Look for other organizations as well as community events that encourage child participation. Even more important are organizations specifically geared toward youth.
Scouting is highly regarded; in addition to providing a “ready made group” of kids in a supervised setting, there is a focus on ethics, personal and group achievement, and an attitude of inclusion. This creates a culture in which social awkwardness and anxiety is accepted and channeled towards positive results.
Organized sports and other physical activities can also play an important role; however these are often difficult environments for children with social challenges. If a child is young, being part of a soccer or baseball team might be something he/she can handle and learn from, particularly if their parent can help as a coach. If this seems too much, is there a local Y that offers swimming lessons? How about a local tennis program? What about martial arts? While these supervised activities tend to limit unstructured time, they allow some peer interaction while not requiring the social skills needed to excel in team sports.
Branching out at School
Schools are children’s main social arena. Here parents have two general concerns: effectively utilizing available opportunities, and avoiding damage that can occur through social ostracism and bullying.
Young children should be encouraged to participate in after school events such as a holiday parties. Middle schools usually offer somewhat more after school activities including sports as well as band practice and performances. If your child likes music successful participation might lead to life long social possibilities.
The wide range of clubs available in high school will probably overlap with some of your child’s existing interests. Greater music and sports opportunities are also available including track, which is oriented towards individual effort but also linked to the larger group. By high school, most parents are less engaged in school affairs, but for those whose children face social challenges staying involved will help them advise their child about resources, activities and which school personnel can assist if they encounter social barriers.
Children who lack social skills often feel ostracized by fellow students. Sometimes this is due to the child misinterpreting situations or comments by peers. It can also be that they are an easy target for teasing and bullying. Schools have begun to offer programs to address this. Parents should be familiar with these programs so they can effectively engage with counselors or other personnel to minimize the damage to their child’s sense of confidence and well being if these problems arise.
You can download a copy for print.