At a glance
Teens who learn and think differently often need to brush up on social habits and cues.
Parents and caregivers can help by practicing common social situations.
The more your teen prepares, the easier it’ll be to navigate real-life scenarios.
Handling social situations is stressful and challenging for many teens. But it can be even harder for teens with learning differences and ADHD who have trouble following basic social rules. It can also create more anxiety.
You can help by practicing common social situations with your teen. Rehearsing lets your child build skills and feel more prepared.
1. Asking someone on a date
The time may come when your teen wants to ask someone for a date. This can feel overwhelming, especially if your teen is unsure of how to even start the conversation.
Practice ways to ask for different types of dates — whether it’s going with a group for pizza after school or going out as a couple to the movies. Try switching roles. And include scenarios where your teen gets turned down. Having open conversations about dating can make teens more comfortable about coming to their parents for help and support.
2. Going on a job interview
First job interviews are a whole new territory for most teens. If your teen has trouble communicating and struggles with social skills, it can be even harder to know what to say or do when it’s time to go out for a job. A rehearsal with you can help build up confidence.
First, ask your teen some typical interview questions like “What are your strengths?” and “Why do you want the job?” Have your teen listen to each one, decide if it requires a short or more in-depth answer, and then practice responding. Brainstorm questions your teen can ask potential employers.
3. Being offered alcohol or drugs
Teens often face intense peer pressure to drink alcohol or do drugs. And those who have poor impulse control, weak social skills, or low self-esteem may have even more trouble saying no. Give your teen some simple lines to use, like, “Not right now,” “I really don’t like the taste,” or “I’m not drinking.”
It’s also important for parents and caregivers to constantly remind teens that they can call anytime, whether it’s for a safe ride or an easy out from a situation that’s making them uncomfortable or where they feel in danger.
4. Joining a school club
Joining a club is a great way for teens to explore new interests. But it can be stressful, especially for kids who have trouble reading social cues or working in groups. Breaking the situation down into parts will make it easier.
Here’s one idea to try. Start a family game of charades or cards that your teen has to “join.” Then, practice introductions, asking questions, and picking up on social cues as you play. Your teen can also work on being patient when others are talking and picking the right moment to enter the conversation.
5. Chatting at a party
Making small talk at a party can be hard for many teens (and adults). Having a script can make it easier. Give your teen some conversation starters to practice on you. Examples include complimenting your outfit, commenting on the decorations, or saying something positive about the food.
Make a list of topics that peers would be interested in (video games, new movies, homework the teacher just assigned...). Next, brainstorm questions your teen can ask the other guests and role-play different responses. You can help your teen recognize social cues that mean it’s time to change the approach or move on to a different topic.
6. Working on a group project
Group projects can be fun, but they can also be tricky for a teen who learns and thinks differently. First of all, it’s likely that the teacher will end up picking the group. Your teen might not know anyone. Or the other kids could be part of a clique.
Act out scenarios including ones where your teen doesn’t agree with the whole group. Let your teen practice saying things like, “Let’s try doing this two different ways and then vote which is better,” or “We should figure out who’d be best for each task.” That approach can help teens feel like they can fit in and still be able to share their ideas and show their strengths.
7. Greeting adults at a gathering
You probably taught your child to politely greet adults from a young age. But if your teen struggles socially, it’s time to practice some more. Explain that as a young adult it’s not always enough to shake hands and say, “Nice to meet you.”
Practice other adult introductions. Start with the basics: “Hi, my name is Michael. I’m Mary’s son.” Then have your teen expand: “Who are you related to at this party?” “Do you live nearby?” It’s good to practice ending the conversations or saying goodbye too. Try: “Thank you for having me.” “I hope to see you then next time.”
Your teen may not come to you for help with social situations or want your advice. Offer to rehearse scenarios if your teen thinks it might be helpful. Don’t force the issue, though. Your teen may come back later to take you up on your offer.
Having scripts to practice can help teens prepare for conversations.
Rehearsing social situations lets teens build social skills like picking up on cues.
Give your teen the words to say to turn down offers of drugs and alcohol.
About the author
About the author
Melissa A. Kay is a writer, editor, and content strategist in the areas of family, health, employment, beauty, lifestyle, and more.
Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.