But not all kids catch those social cues, creating a socially awkward child in a world that’s increasingly aggressive, image-conscious and self-centered. If you’re a parent of a socially-delayed child, this phase is heart-breaking and frightening.
It’s frightening when you think about your child who’s tender-hearted but not prepared for the peer pressure of tween and teenhood.
It’s heart-breaking to see your child lack the confidence to be who they are in an environment that’s not compassionate or tolerant of differences.
How can you help your child develop confidence during this period that’s normally awkward for kids anyway? What can you do to help your child thrive and grow if they are lagging in social development?
Get your child involved in activities with peers where they can develop their gifts and strengths. Sports aren’t the only activities for kids. If your child’s not an athlete or interested in the sports offered by your child’s school, seek out sports or activities where there are kids with similar interests. Explore activities like
- Martial Arts
- Book clubs
- Science camps
- Community theater
- Art clubs
- Running clubs
- Community music opportunities
- Other activities offered through non-school agencies
Help your child develop friendships with like-minded children outside of their classroom or school. As a school counselor to ten-twelve year-olds, I often hear kids say, “I don’t have any friends.” What they’re really saying is there aren’t friends in their classroom or local school they feel comfortable hanging out with. When asked more questions, kids usually identify friends they have from church, clubs or in their neighborhood. Building your child’s friendship circles outside of school builds his or her confidence and helps them learn social cues and friendship skills in a safe, nurturing relationship.
Don’t ignore your child’s social delays. This is counter-intuitive because we want to believe our kids can just be themselves and be accepted. When tweens hit adolescence, peer groups and the pressure to conform can naturally make insecure kids targets for bullying or entice them to conform to be someone they’re not. This is damaging for a child during their identity development. Talking early with your child about quirks or behavior that aren’t socially appropriate and modeling other behavior for them teaches social cues in a safe, nurturing environment. This is better than being devastated by peers who make fun of your child’s differences. You are your child’s greatest teacher and role model. As you gently talk to your child and coach him or her on their behavior, you’re building their esteem and confidence to be successful and accepting of who they are.
Lovingly build your child’s strength and confidence to handle what may come at them when you’re not around. Saying “suck it up” or “be a man” is not the way to make your child emotionally tough. These words are hurtful. But when you gently and lovingly talk to your child about behavior he or she needs to develop appropriately for their age-level, they gain confidence and receive validation that you believe in them even though you’re addressing things they can work on. They’d much rather hear, “That’s not cool” from you than from the mean girl in their class.
Surround your child with trusted, safe adults who can also build confidence and affirm their strengths. These might be teachers who give them opportunities for leadership or a coach, 4-H leader or youth leader who affirms their strengths. For one of my kids, teachers and coaches who affirmed his strengths and gave him opportunities to shine in different venues built confidence during a critical time in his social and emotional development. Be an advocate for your child, giving him or her the best conditions to shine in social situations outside of home.
Giving your child strength and confidence during the awkward years helps them become self-assured adults. Socially awkward kids don’t have to be victim to the fears and jeers of adolescence. Equipping them for the best possible environment to develop their spirit and strengths gives them wings to soar when they emerge from the social microcosm of middle and high school.
What are ways you’ve helped your socially awkward child? What are resources you can share with other parents?