by Carol Miller, LCSW, Director, Social Bridges
Parents often ask what is the most beneficial way to teach your child the social skills they need to get along in life. In one word – Coaching.
A sports coach:
- teaches the rules of the game, gives players specific feedback on what they are doing to be successful (e.g. “Good shot”, “Good block”)
- shows (models) what to do to be a better player. (“This is how you can hold the bat”, “This is how you can pass”)
- Teaches the skills that are needed so that the player can use their skills to play their best game (versus playing the game for them)
How do players get better? By practicing with the support of their coach.
Similarly, parents can serve as social coaches for their child by:
Stating the social rules or expectations for social situations (playdates, birthday parties, family gatherings, sportsmanship or game play or team sports, participation in activities, school field trips)
Teaching – your child social skills and tools according to your family values and beliefs
Modeling – Being the example by showing your child how to interact
Noticing – Providing feedback of how others are perceiving them
Coaching – Reminding your child of what they know (social tools) to effectively problem solve to make good choices for themselves. Just like it is helpful for a sports coach to keep his or her cool to be effective, it is important for a parent to remain or regain calm to coach in a neutral manner.
Supporting your child, while allowing your child to practice regulating their emotions, problem solving and following their plan leads to greater social success.
Conversely, in an effort to help their child “get it right” some parents choose to “fix” social missteps for their child. Fixing means telling the child what they “should do”. This may include “hovering” to make sure it is done “correctly” (helicopter parent) or “paving the way” (snow plow parent), doing for the child so that the child does not experience anxiety, frustration, disappointment etc. These prevent a child from learning how to regulate their emotions, handle disappointment/failure and build resiliency.
Examples include a Parent saying:
- You should tell her to stop treating you that way
- I don’t understand why you are so upset – just play with someone else.
- I will talk to his mom and straighten this out.
- You need to talk to the teacher about this tomorrow.
While this may be done with the best of intentions, fixing can communicate that the parent does not feel that the child can handle the situation. Fixing often leads to dependency and feelings of low self-esteem.
Conversely, Coaching entails asking your child a series of questions so that the child can decide how they want to handle a situation.
- Is it a big deal or a little deal?
- How do you feel about the situation?
- Do you want to talk about it?
- Do you want some help deciding what to do?
- What have you tried?
- How do you want to handle it?
While learning how to make good decisions for themselves, children will make mistakes (and hopefully learn from them) along the way. Experiencing missteps in a safe place with a supportive parent, helps your child to grow in their social -emotional development to be socially competent (I know what to do and I know how to do it), fostering independence and self- esteem.