Difficulty Forming & Maintaining Friendships
When a child has no friends, it can be very stressful for both the child & the parents. Sometimes, I find the parents are actually more stressed than the children as they may be more socially aware in situations e.g. not being invited to birthday parties, playing by himself/herself during playtime for periods, not seeing friends outside of school etc. However, sometimes children are very socially aware but don't have the skills to form & maintain friendships & this can start to significantly impact on their self-esteem & well-being.
So what do you do in this situation?
If children like their 'own company' and spending time not socially engaging with others; it is very important to facilitate time like this both at home (quiet space in room) & school (quiet sensory break) as constant social engagement with others can be exhausting - I think everyone can agree with that.
Now consider this for a child who has social skill difficulties; every interaction may cause some feelings of anxiety, conversational skills may not be automatic, they may struggle to follow the conversation when there is a group, they may miss subtle cues and body language to read the situation etc.. All these different aspects & more can make social interactions very complex & exhausting for kids hence why many find it easier to play independently or maybe with one other 'best friend'.
Social skills are a very important part of life and we rely on them heavily throughout our lifespan. Although awareness of differences amongst people is vital, knowing how to navigate a conversation with others can be very important.
What should I do during play-dates?
Allow kids time to play independently at home especially after intensive social interactions like school, play-dates or clubs.
Keep play dates short & start with just one other child. Maybe add some structured, fun activities if necessary during play-dates & make sure to end the playdate on a FUN note e.g. science experiments, baking, going to playground, an obstacle course or treasure hunt.
If your child is finding it difficult to identify other kids, they would like on a playdate; use your parenting instinct to schedule ones with kids who share similar interests or whose personality may suit your child. This might extend outside of the classroom to extracurricular sports, clubs or parenting groups.
Social stories can be a great way to prep kids for social situations & help them problem solve solutions to hypothetical situations so they feel prepared for unpredictability within the play date. Also decide on comfortable clothing, the snack that will be available, some of the activities that could be played & things that might happen e.g. other child not wanting to play a game or wanting to play with a favourite toy. If your child has a particular favourite toy, I would discuss putting this away during the play-date to ease anxiety or reduce the possibility of a melt-down over it.
Give them a safe word or gesture if they feel overwhelmed so they can have a break, a movie can go on or a structured activity can be completed.
Chat about the play date after the other child has left so everyone can reflect on what worked & what could be improved for the next one e.g. games that were fun, things that upset us or made us laugh. Great opportunity to reflect & move on; not ruminate about it.
I love using Michelle Garcia’s Social Thinking Curriculum to teach kids about 'social thinking'. I am constantly using her techniques during intervention sessions with kids. You are never too old to learn how to socially engage more comfortably with others & to the best of your ability.
Social skill groups can also be a nice way for kids to learn skills among their peers and potentially meet other children with similar interests. Like any skill, social skills takes lots of practice in everyday situations. I explore the topic of social skills, resilience & anxiety in alot more detail on My OT University. You can explore this more by clicking here.
I never realised the complexity of social skills until I started working as an Occupational Therapist (OT)- never take for granted how many steps you have in autopilot that your child might need to consciously think about when interacting with others i.e. tone of voice, facial expression, posture, gestures, conversational skills, personal space, listening skills etc...
Hope you enjoyed this post. Keep learning by visiting My OT University.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER: Jessica Kennedy is a Certified CORU Registered Occupational Therapist. All information on the website is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for medical advice from your physician. Please consult with a medical professional if you suspect any medical or developmental issues with your child. Do not rely on the information on the website as an alternative to advice from your medical professional or healthcare provider. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment as a result of any information provided on the website. All medical information on the website is for informational purposes only. All activities outlined on the website are designed for completion with adult supervision. Please use your own judgment with your child and do not provide objects that could pose a choking hazard to young children. Never leave a child unattended during these activities. Please be aware of and follow all age recommendations on all products used in these activities. My OT & Me is not liable for any injury when replicating any of the activities found on this blog or website.