It's September, and we all know what that means...back to school. With the change of the season also comes new teachers, new classes, a new routine, and opportunities for building new friendships. For children with communication challenges, this also means new obstacles and all the feelings that come along with unfamiliar "new-ness".
To help your child start on the right track, here are our top 3 strategies for building relationships and developing positive social skills in and out of school.
1. Find a Common Interest
Think: What do I do? What sounds natural? How do I initiate small talk with a new person?
We typically don't go up to strangers and blurt out, "Hi, I'm (insert name here)." When we initiate conversations we typically make a comment based on a common interest.
Now, you might be thinking, "Okay, sure, but how do I teach my child to find a common interest?" Break it down into smaller steps.
What's the first step? Look around. In order to start a conversation with someone we need to look and notice what's around us, and more important who's around us. What do you see?
2. Make a Comment
Usually, this is in the form of a compliment or commenting on a common interest. Some examples might be, "Hey, I like your dress," or "Oh no way, you like grilled cheese? Me too!"
Now that you've established what you see (see strategy #1), make a comment. What kinds of things can you say about what's around you? What comes to mind?
3. Ask a Question
What usually comes after that friendly compliment?
"Hey, I like your dress... where'd you get it?"
By asking a question, you automatically engage your communication partner in continuing the conversation!
How To Practice At Home
Role Play: Talk through the types of situations your child might be the most nervous about - talking to other kids while waiting for the bus, or in the hallway, or at the lunch table, etc. Take turns pretending to be each person in the conversation. Think about what your child might say, along with different topics and responses.
Practice appropriate body language too!
Think: What is my face telling you? When I cross my arms, how do you think I'm feeling?
Remember: You are your child's first and best teacher. Model good social skills by noticing things about your child, making relevant comments, and asking open-ended questions to keep the conversation going. You can practice these skills with your child in the car, at the dinner table, going on a walk... anywhere! There are opportunities for conversation everywhere!
If you need more information or ways to help your child build social language skills, give us a call at 410-274-0041.
Erica Eckel was a speech-language pathologist at Kid Connections Therapy in Severna Park, Maryland.