Socializing well comes naturally to some but not so easily to others. Your child or teen might be “that awkward kid” — the one who avoids direct eye contact, hesitates to initiate a conversation, or desperately relies on one friend.
Is your kid introverted, socially awkward, or socially anxious?
Being introverted is not the same as being socially awkward. Introverts may relish their alone time and may be seen as alert and observant. They do not typically get shamed or bullied by others.
If you’re the parent of a socially awkward kid, here are 10 ways to help them socialize.
1. Intervene early.
Keep an eye out for how your child interacts with others in a variety of settings. You may not notice anything at home but perhaps on the playground or with neighbors, you may be able to pinpoint areas of potential concern.
If you notice a problem, the best thing you can do is talk to your child and try to understand their perspective. Be curious, use open-ended questions, and work collaboratively on solutions.
2. Build basic skills for getting along.
Include your kid in social occasions, holidays, events, and dinners.
Have them Social Spy to guess what other people are feeling.
It’s not their fault that social situations end up painful. Don’t nag, but work collaboratively to build skills. Practice taking little steps and encourage them every step of the way to build up their self-confidence.
Consider breaking down the steps to making a friend a simple process of connecting with another person. This can help demystify the process and make it less intimidating and less complicated.
4. Practice making small talk.
Knowing that you can move from one topic to another and make conversation is not just an art, it’s a necessity.
Small talk can help you connect with people and make friends and find out about others so you can nurture friendships.
Some socially awkward kids struggle to make conversation. Have family dinners, ask your child to add to a conversation with close family friends, shepherd him around at a family party, and coach him to make conversation.
5. Teach kids to look at how they want to be treated.
Explain what qualities to look for in a friendship. This will help them be discerning and not just settle for anyone who gives them the slightest attention. Or banish those who might make a single mistake.
Ask your child what they want out of their friendships? How do they want to be treated? What makes a friendship enjoyable?
6. Talk openly.
When the opportunity arises, ask about their friends and their experience in school.
Listen and frankly discuss what they like and what they don’t.
7. Ensure personal hygiene.
This is so important because kids are big on first impressions. Keeping all parts of the external body clean and healthy has positive effects on a person’s social life and physical and mental health.
Not only does washing their hands protect against gastro or infectious diseases such as COVID-19, colds, and flu, but it will also help prevent spreading diseases to other people.
Although you may feel your older kid shouldn’t need regular reminders, many do, especially kids with executive function challenges. Brushing teeth, showering, and washing clothes are important to ensure your child is not needlessly targeted.
8. Model joining a group and engaging with people.
Demonstrate how to reach out to other people and nurture relationships. Talk about how to approach a group of people.
Roleplay and rehearse with family members or at a party with close friends where your child can practice walking up to someone, saying hello, and physically joining a circle of people to become part of a conversation.
9. Be part of the community.
Join activities and talk openly about your reasons for doing so, and explain the process. Then use collaborative conversations to help your child pick places to join where she can meet people, cultivate relationships, and practice key skills.
Every day presents opportunities to reach out to others and engage. Practice with people they are comfortable with first. Encourage extracurricular activities, school groups, and clubs as all of it will help them grow in confidence.
If they are old enough, suggest they look for a job. The interview will help them in many ways with their confidence and social skills building.
10. Pay attention.
You are your child’s best advocate, but sometimes your child or teen may need to speak to a professional.
Working on specific concerns and ways to overcome their social anxiety and awkwardness may be a critical element to stepping into a more social future.
So, why can’t your kid socialize well with others?
There may be a variety of reasons why kids and adults struggle socially.
Perhaps they have learning differences like ADHD, autism, and LD here. The reasons are varied, but most importantly, meet your child where they are. Tailor support around their needs.
Social awkwardness is similar to social anxiety in that they both induce anxiousness or stress in social situations.
A socially awkward kid may get stigmatized, bullied, and ridiculed for it. They may feel shame and isolated.
The good news is that social skills, just like any other life skill, can be practiced and improved at any age. The not-so-good news is that if awkwardness is not successfully addressed, it can solidify and continue.
It takes time for a kid who is struggling socially to step out of their comfort zone, but it can be done — slowly and steadily.
Remember, they need to go at their own pace, so they don’t get overwhelmed. Be patient.
Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them. For more information, visit her website.
This article was originally published at carolinemaguireauthor.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.