Most people know that social skills are important for being able to attract friends. Kids who struggle with understanding social “rules” have a hard time knowing how to build and maintain relationships. However, sometimes I think we forget that a lack of social awareness can do more than passively affect our children’s social lives.
In reality, lacking social awareness can actively push people away. Without an understanding of how social interactions work, our kiddos’ efforts to make friends might do more than just not succeed. They might backfire and actually make things worse.
A situation at our family Easter gathering reminded me how my son’s poor social skills hurt him. It’s not often that my kids have the chance to get together with their cousins; and so, they were all delighted to see each other this Easter. My son was particularly excited to play with his cousins, and for a time, all was well. They were playing loudly and having a very good time.
One-by-one, his siblings and cousins slipped away and stopped playing with him. They moved to a quieter part of the house. Eventually, he was left playing with just one of his cousins, who, after a time, also drifted away to join the others. He wanted to continue playing, and couldn’t understand why they had all left him.
My son followed the others and kept trying to play the game he had started. He throwing plastic easter eggs into the room where they had sequestered themselves, yelling “GRENADE!!!” before slamming the door and running away laughing. They kept telling him to stop, but he would just laugh harder and do it again. Finally, they locked the door on him.
Even being locked out of the room did not deter him. He began pounding on the door and yelling that they should let him in. He thought it was all part of the game, and did not realize that they were serious about wanting him to go away. By that time, he had gotten loud enough that it caught the attention of the adults. Without realizing what was actually going on, I called to him to quiet down, and he responded that they were “only playing”.
It wasn’t until I went to personally quiet him down that I realized what was actually happening. I went to explain to my son that his uncle was about to take his children and go home because it was so noisy; and I found him alone in the hallway. He told me that he had to be that loud because he had been locked out of the room where everyone else was.
I asked him why he thought the others locked him out, and he said he didn’t know. I then offered to tell him what I thought the reason might be, and after getting his agreement, I told him that I thought perhaps they didn’t like how he was playing. Even after I suggested this, he didn’t believe it was true. He thought I was wrong, and that I didn’t understand the situation. Therefore, I offered to check with the rest of the kids to get their version of what was happening.
When I spoke with the others, I discovered they were completely overwhelmed by his behavior. They said he was being way too loud. I was told he had been throwing plastic eggs into the room, and had actually hit one of his cousins in the face with them more than once. They were completely done with him.
His desperate attempts to play with them had led them to want nothing more to do with him. When I explained to him how his cousins and siblings were feeling, he got upset. He kept talking about how he just wanted to play with them; and how they had all been having fun at first. He thought it was unfair that they had all changed their minds on him. He felt they were all being mean to him.
I used the Spectrum Social approach to teach him about fitting in with a group. I explained that, when we are with a group of people, we have to be aware of how the group is feeling, and what the group wants to do. We talked about how the fact that the others walked away and went to a quiet room to talk was a cue that they were done with wanting to play a loud game.
He needed me to explain the importance “reading the room”. It took a while, but I finally got him to see that he had to choose between doing what he wanted to do, or being with the people he wanted to be with. I told him that we have to find different groups to do different things with, because not everyone enjoys the same activities.
He was more receptive to learning the social concept than he’s ever been before. He has never been very invested in the social skills training he’s received in the past. The difference was that I helped him see how the ideas I was sharing would personally benefit him. This created more buy-in on his part.
The whole experience made me even more excited to get our social club up and running. I believe our focus on helping the kids achieve their own social goals will really benefit, not only my son, but all of our students.
In summary, it's critical to our children’s happiness to help them develop good social awareness. Yes, it’s important to make them better able to know how to make friends and build relationships. However, it is even more vital to prevent them from causing themselves to be disliked, or even ostracized, as a result of their ineffective attempts at social outreach. We need to teach them how to avoid accidentally throwing social hand grenades!