At a glance
If your child struggles with social interactions or fears them, consider role-playing some for practice.
By going over everyday situations beforehand, your child won't feel as worried about them.
Your child can build social skills and learn social cues by practicing them with you.
Even though kids rehearse for the school play or go to soccer practice between games, they rarely get the chance to practice for all of the social situations they face. And, if your child learns and thinks differently, it's even more important to role-play these common instances. Think of the times when your child will be using social skills that feel more wobbly or when your child will need to follow social cues and rules.
The good news is that you can make the process fun. And playing out various interactions will inevitably help your child build up social skills and learn about social rules. For starters, try role-playing these common social scenarios.
The Birthday Party
The situation: Your child has been invited to a classmate’s party. Map out the scene, the guests who will attend, the location. From there, you can role-play the event. For example, when your child arrives, what if the birthday boy is busy talking to other kids? How can your child greet him?
Later, when everyone starts playing party games and it’s too loud and overwhelming for your child, what are some ways to take a break and calm down? Another possible scenario: The birthday boy opens his presents and someone else has brought the exact same gift as your child. How will your child handle this? If you think it will trigger anger or a tantrum, role-play it out. You can also practice good-byes when it's time to leave the party.
The Shopping Trip
The situation: You’re in a store looking for a gift for a friend and your child is with you. Suddenly, your child gets riled up because there's a toy on display. Your child wants you to buy the toy immediately and won't back down. How can your child ask—preferably in a calm and polite manner—to buy it? You'll probably want to keep browsing, so what can your child do to control emotions and impulses and wait patiently while you're making decisions in the store?
Let's say you agree to get your child the toy, but only if your child can handle the purchase alone. You will stand by and watch in case there are questions about the price or making change, but how will your child interact with the cashier?
On the other hand, if you feel the toy isn't worth it and ask your child to put it back on the shelf when it's time to go, how will your child cope with this?
Eating With Friends
The situation: You’re at a restaurant 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 back and forth, give-and-take conversation looks like in this situation.
Another possibility? The food arrives, but your child’s order is wrong. Will your child get angry or overreact? What might your child say? And, what if your child is finished eating before everyone else? In this scenario, it's good to role-play some ways your child can wait patiently and calm impulses.
The Family Barbecue
The situation: Your mother-in-law is hosting a big, chaotic barbecue, and the whole family is attending, including some out-of-town relatives and maybe a few neighbors. A great-uncle your child has never met approaches and wants to chat. How can your child make an introduction? For example: "Hello, my name is Sammy and I'm Jenelle's son."
Later, your mother-in-law asks your child how school is going, but this hasn’t been a great year. How can your child respond? Perhaps something like: "I'm really liking this year's afterschool sports" or "I have made some new friends". If your child wants to play with an older cousin's video games, what's the best way to ask? And, what if the cousin says no?
Think of the most common social situations your child might be involved in and go from there.
Role-play all kinds of interactions, from how to talk to a relative to greeting a buddy at a birthday party.
With some extra practice, your child will build upon their social strengths and thrive.
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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.