Following social rules

8 Social Situations to Role-Play With Your Middle-Schooler

By Amanda Morin

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All tweens want to fit in with their peers. But following basic social rules can be tough for some kids with learning and attention issues. You can help your middle-schooler build social skills and feel more prepared to work with others by role-playing these common situations.

184Found this helpful
Group of students sitting in the hall with their backs against the lockers talking
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Giving Someone a Compliment

Giving a genuine compliment can be harder than it seems. Explain that a compliment is saying something nice about what a friend takes pride in or wants other people to notice. Demonstrate by asking your child which is more meaningful to him: “It’s great that you like to eat eggs,” or “You’re a really good soccer player.”

He can practice giving compliments to you, but it may also help to have him look for them in other situations. For instance, if you’re watching TV together, ask him to point out sincere and insincere compliments.

Students consulting each other in class
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Accepting a Peer’s Criticism

Accepting criticism is tough for many kids with learning and attention issues. It can also be hard to understand there’s a difference between being put down and being given helpful feedback. Explain to your child that hearing people out while keeping his cool is an important friendship skill.

Teach him to use “placeholder” words like “uh-huh” and “OK” while listening. Then practice reflecting back what he’s heard and asking for clarification. “OK, I play too rough on the basketball court. Is that hurting my game or just bugging the rest of the team?”

Group of students gathered outside school talking and laughing with other students looking on
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Dealing With Clique Behavior

Tweens can have trouble finding a group of kids they fit in with. Those who have weak social skills and low self-esteem may have a tough time handling clique behavior. Help your child understand that when cliques exclude and tease people, they’re looking for a reaction.

Practice some simple ways he can defuse situations humorously (“You’re right, this shirt really is ugly—maybe I should just take it off right here”) or calmly (“That’s OK, I can sit somewhere else”). Let him know that if he’s feeling bullied instead of teased, he can always talk to you.

Group of students in pottery class
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Joining an Afterschool Activity

Afterschool activities are a good way for tweens to explore their strengths and passions. But getting involved isn’t always easy for kids who have trouble reading social situations and working in groups. Role-playing how to join a new activity can help.

Enlist the family in doing an activity your child has to join. Have him practice introducing himself and asking questions about the activity. He can also work on being tolerant of other people’s ideas and taking turns in conversation.

Group of girls walking outside school having a conversation
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Starting a Conversation With a Friend

Starting conversations, keeping them going and knowing how to end them can be hard for tweens. Preparing some conversation starters can help. Have your child practice on you. He could compliment you, comment on the activity you’re involved in or ask a question about a common interest.

Brainstorm appropriate things to say to peers, and then role-play different responses. You can help him practice social rules like not standing too close when he talks. Have him develop eye contact and appropriate facial expressions, such as smiling when someone is trying to be funny and nodding when someone is making a point. Give him simple ways to end a conversation, like saying “Thanks,” “See you later” or “Nice talking to you.”

Students and teacher engaged in a group project
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Working in a Group

Working in a group can be hard, especially for kids who have a tough time understanding other people’s point of view. Help your child learn to work with others by acting out various situations, including disagreements among group members.

Have him practice saying things like, “Let’s look at the pros and cons of each idea,” or “Here’s why I think this will work.”

Group of students on the school bus having a conversation
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Listening to Other People

Holding back on what they want to say can be hard for tweens. Kids who have attention issues or trouble with working memory may interrupt because they’re afraid they’ll lose their train thought. You can give your child tricks to remember what he’s thinking. These can include keeping “code words” in mind, jotting down a quick note or even sending himself a text.

Practice fast-paced conversations with your child. Help him learn to introduce new ideas by saying things like, “I like what you said. You know what it made me think of?”

Two middle school friends hanging out smiling and talking
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Making Plans With Friends

Getting together with friends may not be as hard as settling on a plan. Your child may be stuck on what he wants to do and have a hard time compromising. Brainstorm a variety of things he likes to do. Then practice conversations that go easily and ones that don’t.

For example, if your child says, “Hey, let’s go to the movies,” you can answer “Sure,” or “Nah, I don’t want to go the movies.” Teach him ways to counter-offer. “OK, what do you want to do? I also like to…” or “Maybe we can do that and go to the movies another time.”

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7 Social Situations to Role-Play With Your High-Schooler

The No. 1 goal of many teens is to avoid embarrassment. That requires following basic social rules. You can help your high-schooler build social skills and feel prepared by role-playing common situations like these.

4 Social Situations to Role-Play With Your Grade-Schooler

Kids rehearse for the school play and attend practices between soccer games. Why not rehearse social situations, too? Role-playing can be a fun way to help build social skills and learn about social rules. These mock situations can get you started.

About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Jim Rein

Jim Rein, M.A., has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and attention issues.

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