We often describe our social coaching with kids as we "state the obvious and connect the dots". For those who are adept at reading social situations, there are obvious cues that are picked up on and reacted to in various social settings. But for those who have difficulty, their actions sometimes send unintended messages. This theme presented itself in numerous groups this week. Several times during social group, I would observe a child who was off by him or herself playing something that they really enjoyed. In that moment, they were totally contented to keep playing without friends interacting with them. But what they didn't understand is that when they play alone while in a group, they are sending a message that they want to be left alone or even that they don't want to be friends with the other members of the group. Twice this week when I explained how playing alone when in group could send a message of not wanting to be friends, I saw the ah-ha of understanding in their expressions. The conversation usually goes like this:
Coach: "You know what I'm noticing?"
Coach: "You are over here playing and having a great time and over there are a bunch of kids who are playing air hockey and laughing. Would you like to see what's so fun over there?"
Child: "Not really. I want to do this."
Coach: "Sure, I can see that you enjoy this a lot and that's totally cool but did you know that if you decide not to play with the rest of the kids that they might think you don't want to be friends?"
Child: "Really? But I do want to be friends."
Coach: "Great! Let's go on over and see what's so funny!"
Once they join in, the pull of the solitary activity might shorten the interaction. Praise them for giving it a try and then let them return to the solo activity. Kids won't benefit from being forced to interact but the message has been delivered. Generally, once we see that they understand that they are sending unintended messages, they will begin to join in more often.
Coaching kids to teach them social skills often means that we need to assume they don't know what is happening in the social setting the child is in. Once they understand what they need to do to send the intended message, be there to support them as they join a group and praise them for leaving the solitary activity for the sake of friendship.