At a glance
Kids who learn and think differently can have a harder time in social situations.
Role-playing can help kids feel more prepared and less anxious about social interactions.
Your child can build social skills and learn social cues by practicing them with you.
Kids develop a lot of social skills during grade school, but that doesn’t mean socializing is easy. It can be especially hard and stressful for some kids who learn and think differently. Role-playing can help your child feel prepared and also build social skills.
1. Birthday parties
Your child is invited to a classmate’s party and is worried about what will be happening. Map out the scene for your child — where the party will take place, who will be there, and what the activities will be (you can ask the parent if you don’t know). Then role-play the event.
What if the birthday boy is busy talking to other kids when your child arrives? How can your child greet him? What if another child brought the same exact gift? How should your child react? You can also practice goodbyes for when it’s time to leave the party.
2. Playing at another child’s home
This can be a tough one, because there are many social demands. Your child will have to make conversation, interact with unfamiliar adults, share and take turns, ask where things are, and follow rules that may be different from the rules at home.
Go through all of these scenarios and give your child scripts for what to say. For example: “That’s a cool-looking toy. Can I see it when you’re finished playing?” Or “Excuse me, what should I do with my plate when I’m done?”
3. Eating with other people
You’re having a meal with another family, and the conversation turns to something your child is interested in. Role-play how your child can join in without interrupting.
Go over what a give-and-take conversation looks like and how to know when it’s a good time to talk and to stop talking. You can also practice what to say and do if your child doesn’t like the food or finishes before everyone else.
4. Family gatherings
You’re going to a family reunion with many guests, including some out-of-town relatives. An aunt your child has never met comes over and wants to chat. Practice how to make an introduction. For example: “Hello, my name is Sammy. I’m Jenelle’s son.”
Rehearse what to say if someone asks your child how school is going — especially if it’s a struggle. Your child might respond with: “I really like the afterschool sports this year” or “I’ve made some new friends.” And if your child wants to play with a cousin’s video games, what’s the best way to ask? What if the cousin says no?
You can practice role-playing before an upcoming social event or after a social situation that didn’t go as well as your child hoped. Over time, role-play can help your child develop both social skills and confidence.
Playing at other kids’ homes can be especially tricky.
Make sure to cover the basics like greetings and knowing when to talk and not talk.
Give your child scripts of what to say in common social situations.
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About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.