One day, your 2nd grader comes home from school and declares that they will not be going back. All the kids in their class are just mean – they don’t want to share – and their best friend is now the most bossiest person on earth!
You take a deep breath.
Of course, you know that the social dynamics between children during the elementary school years changes quickly, frequently, and at times seemingly inexplicably. The drama is just part of growing up. But right now your child is feeling confused, hurt, and ready to retreat due to these shifting dynamics. It’s time to intervene to ensure that they will continue to get along with their peers.
What can you do to teach your child social intelligence?
1. Model Social Skills Yourself
It goes almost without saying that parents must model social skills at home. What you do is infinitely more important than what you say. If you put forth a good example of listening to others, taking turns when talking, staying calm, being responsible for your own behavior, and doing nice things for others, your child will eventually learn those skills as well.
2. Address Specific Situations and Challenges Your Child Faces
Instead of making them feel incompetent by telling them what to do when they face challenges, it’s best to simply help them learn to express their feelings about their problems and to guide them through various problem-solving options. Consider a few:
Creating Boundaries – Help your child know how to stand up for him or her self. Teach them to tell their friends that there needs to be rules for certain situations so that they can feel safe. Brainstorm with them about how to say “no” in a way that helps them keep their friends and their integrity.
Fighting with Friends – Listen to your child’s view and empathize with their feelings, but don’t dismiss them or take sides – either by getting mad at the other child yourself or negating your child’s perception of their friend. Simply be supportive and let them feel their anger or hurt. This allows those feelings to dissipate and lets your child get past them. Once they’ve calmed down, lead them to make a better decision about how to proceed. If your child is the one being unfair, encourage them to think about the other child’s point of view without making your child feel blamed.
Bossiness – Help your child understand that they need to take turns. Ask them if playing is more important to them or getting their own way. If another child is the bossy one, help your child learn to negotiate with their friend. For example: Instead of bluntly saying what they think about their friend’s behavior – like “You’re so bossy!” – teach them to express their feelings and needs kindly.
3. Deal With Aggression
If your elementary school-aged child is resorting to force when handling situations, it’s a strong indication that they need help dealing with their feelings – most often fear. First, consider why they may be acting this way. Is your child highly sensitive and needs help to process their feelings? Or is your child perhaps viewing others – in the family or on TV – using force to handle matters?
Take some time to watch your child closely when they interact with their peers. Be sensitive to cues from other parents and children, and intervene if your child shows aggression. Don’t shame them about their behavior, but fully explore with them what happened and teach them how to control their actions next time. Show your child how to apologize. Be very clear that no matter if they were provoked or not, what they do in reply is always their responsibility.