Everyone wants their children to have friends, have positive social interactions at school and be liked by their peers, but we do not necessarily practice the skills needed to be a good friend at home. Lauren Robinson, speech-language pathologist, shares skills that can be modeled at home between you and your children to teach these skills, and then they can be used when they are out in the community or at school.
There are several ways we can work with our children to make them better social thinkers and better friends. We live in a busy world with many distractions, so it’s important we model to our children how to be active listeners. To be an active listener, one must be looking at the person who is speaking to them and their body must be facing the speaker. This means phone down! By modeling and requiring this type of communication between you and your child, you are showing them how to listen to peers and how to act when someone is talking to them.
Another part of being a good friend is understanding that other people have different ideas, thoughts, interests and feelings than you. Encourage talking about what people might be thinking and feeling while reading books or watching movies. Talk about your own feelings and ideas when something happens or you see something to exemplify these possible differences. Another way to work on this is to encourage two-way conversation. When adults talk to children, they naturally ask them lots of questions. Encourage dialogue between you and your children at dinner time or in the car, where not only are you asking them questions but they are asking you reciprocal and follow-up questions to what you ask or tell them. This could include them asking about your day, your favourite things, or how you feel about what just happened.
Whenever I ask clients what their parents like to do, I often get responses along the lines of, “They like to drive me to school.” I then have to break it to them that no, mom does not particularly love driving in Toronto traffic, but probably has other interests that she’d like to talk about. I’ve received many emails from parents telling me that when they got home from school that day, they were pleasantly surprised when their child asked them a personal question for the first time.
When we learn things about new people, we can make ‘friend files’ about them and work to remember what different things and activities our friends like. When we remember what our friends like, it helps us choose conversation topics that they will enjoy and remind us of what activities they’d like to play so both of us have fun. My family is currently getting a new puppy and all of my clients who are working on conversation skills have been highly encouraged to look at pictures and ask me questions about my puppy. We have then added this to the list of things that I am interested in and like to talk about (my friend file). Several of these clients, armed with this knowledge of what I like to talk about, have brought it up in conversation the next time I see them. When they are encouraged to think of others and learn things about their lives, they can ask thoughtful questions that are crucial to forming strong friendships.
- Looking at the social, emotional and academic needs of your child
- Strategies to support communication development in children with ASD
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