Friday, March 28, 2008

Concerned about Shyness?

When is shyness a problem and when is it just a part of your child’s personality? That’s a question that every parent of an introverted child has to ask. It’s important to separate the reserved personality traits of the introvert from more troublesome characteristics of timidity and social embarrassment. A good rule of thumb is that shyness is a problem if it’s keeping your child from developing along appropriate social and academic paths.

It’s been well established that variation in introversion/extroversion is one of the core differences in people’s personalities. This variation doesn’t have to be considered a good or bad thing. Both introversion and extroversion have strengths and advantages as well as weaknesses.

In general, parents need to accept and celebrate the characteristics that make each child unique. Our American culture frequently encourages all of us to behave as if we were extroverts and we minimize the strengths of the introvert. This can be a mistake, because a more reserved child is often very aware, a deep thinker, and quite thoughtful of others. Because they’ve had to put deliberate  thought into initiating a friendship, a more introverted child will frequently take her friendships quite seriously, being loyal and caring. These advantages often get overlooked in the rush to have everyone be outgoing.

At the same time, parents need to acknowledge that some traits, such as extreme shyness, might be making life difficult for their child. Children who don’t have any friends, won’t speak up in class or while talking to the teacher, or kids who are nervous about going to school are all struggling with shyness.

Try to talk to your child about social issues. Find out who he eats lunch with, where she spends recess. Does your child have a realistic list of friends to invite to a birthday party? Kids frequently feel comfortable if they have just one friend to hang out with, but life can be very difficult with no friends at all. Sitting alone at the lunch table can be torture. Check out the academic end of shyness as well. Kids who are struggling with their introversion may not feel comfortable answering the teacher or giving presentations. This can make the school day feel very intense and effect the child’s grades as well.

While some kids’ shyness eases as they mature, other kids get more anxious as they get older. It’s important to get help if this is the case. If your child is struggling with problems due to shyness, there are lots of things that you as a parent can do to help. This topic will be explored further in later columns.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Can Parents Teach Their Kids Social Skills?

Of course! Kids learn most of their social skills from their parents. Parents do this deliberately, for example, they teach their children to say please and thank you. Parents do this instinctively, by following all sorts of subtle rules regarding communication and interaction. Things like how long to pause before answering a question, or when to look someone in the eye. Usually, kids also pick up these rules instinctively.

Sometimes, however, everything does not go smoothly. Some kids really struggle in learning the basics of how to interact with others. Sometimes it’s due to  autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Kids with attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity can struggle because of their impulsiveness. For other kids it’s not because of a disorder, it’s just tough for them to figure these things out.

What should parents do when they are concerned about their child's social interactions? A two ended approach may be best. First, consult with your child’s pediatrician and teacher. Find out their recommendations. If a formal social skills group is suggested, your child will be able to learn from a professional. At the same time, parents should still try to become informed. The best social skills groups will only occur for a few hours, or fewer, a week. Kids are with their parents hours a day. Learn what you can about social skills so you too can help your child.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Social Skills Basics: Personal Space

For many kids, the idea of personal space is instinctive. We're most comfortable if we are a set distance from those we're talking to and interacting with. But the rules regarding personal space can get a bit complicated, so it's not surprising that some kids have trouble getting it right.

Personal space refers to how far away people stand or sit from each other, whether or not people touch each other and even what personal items are ours, and which are shared. The actual rules vary with culture, age, gender and how well people know each other. The whole concept gets very complicated by the fact that we learn most of our social rules from our families, but by nature, families follow different rules with each other than friends or strangers do.

There are two simple ways to gauge the rules on personal space. If your child is talking to someone, pay attention to what the other person is doing.  Most people can't help but back away when someone comes too close. If your child gets this signal often, from multiple people, try to get him or her to increase the distance.

The second way is merely to observe. Kids who struggle with social skills need parents who act like anthropologists. Pay attention to what other kids at the school or playground are doing. If your child is too close or too far, he's sending a message he might not mean to.

Helping your kids with social skills

Lots of children struggle with figuring out other people, making friends and just getting along. In this blog, I present simple social skills that you can teach to your child. Please feel free to add your comments, or visit for more information.