When your child struggles with social and emotional issues, it can be a challenge to talk to him about the issues he faces.
Avoiding the subject isn’t helpful. But helping your child put it in perspective is. The goal is to let your child see himself as someone who struggles with specific things—not with everything.
The first step is to isolate his area of difficulty and name it. This will give him a sense of control over his situation. Use language like, “You’re the kind of person who…” and “You and other kids….” Emphasizing that he’s not the only person who struggles in this area can help him feel less isolated.
As you talk to your child about his social and emotional challenges, here are some good things to keep in mind.
Balance the negative and the positive.
It’s important to address negative emotions with your child. But it’s equally important to boost his positive emotions. When you talk about things that are difficult for him, remind him how much you support and care for him. Try to say things like “I love you,” “I’m here to help you” and “Everything is going to be OK.”
Be specific about inappropriate behavior.
When possible, refer to specific situations with your child. Let him know exactly when he reacted inappropriately in a social situation. Or when he behaved in a way that was not acceptable to you. Don’t say thing like, “you always” do something or “you never” do something. You want him to understand why you are concerned and to feel that he can make improvements.
Don’t be dismissive.
Avoid saying things like “get over it” or “you shouldn’t feel that way” when your child becomes upset or misbehaves. If your child could just get over it or could easily change the way he feels, you wouldn’t have concerns about his struggles with emotions. Similarly, dismissing his concerns with “that’s not a big deal” will not get him to calm down or to see a situation more realistically. It is a big deal to him. You won’t be successful if you try to convince your child that he doesn’t feel what he feels.
Respond calmly to an explosive child.
It’s up to you to provide a balance for your child’s temperament. That means remaining calm even when he gets overexcited. This can be hard. It can even take practice if you don’t naturally
respond calmly to stressful situations. Try role-playing with a friend or partner. This can prepare you for a real conversation with your child.
Put anxiety in perspective.
Kids with learning and attention issues are often anxious about more than just monsters under the bed. They may also worry about common situations that other kids don’t even think about. That can include things like school and socializing.
Encourage him to be open about his fears and tell him you believe they’re real. Don’t tell him not to worry. Let him know that most people can’t even tell when he’s anxious, so he doesn’t have to be concerned about what others think.
Finally, reassure him that anxiety can be managed successfully. Tell him you’ll work with his school and his doctor to identify ways to keep anxiety from getting in his way so much.
Put a positive spin on social struggles.
When talking with your child about social problems, frame the conversation as positively as possible. One way to do that is to listen before talking.
Only ask a few questions after your child tells you what’s on his mind. Ask if he’s done anything about the situation. Compliment him on his effort even if what he did was not effective. And follow that with a few questions that put him in control, such as “What else can you try?”
Acknowledge that his feelings are real, and show him that you’ve thought about them. You can say something like, “It seems like you’re upset because….” That allows him to respond so the conversation can continue. If you jump right to advice, you’ll shut down the conversation.
It’s natural to relate his experiences to experiences you had as a child. But try to avoid it. It’s critical for you to think about what the social situations mean to him, not what they would have meant to you.
Offer advice or suggestions.
Once your child has shared his feelings, you can help him manage them. It may be very hard for him to separate one incident from the next. Help him identify the specific problem by restating what you hear him say. When he hears you describe the problem as a stand-alone event, and without emotion, it will become easier for him to manage.
Help your child brainstorm solutions to the problem. Ask him, “What could you do in situations like this?” Follow up on each item with questions like, “What do you think would happen if you tried this one?” After you have thought through most of the ideas with him, ask him to select the one he feels is most likely to solve the problem for him. Remember it’s his choice, not yours.
Finally, and only after trying these strategies, you can ask your child if there is anything he would like for you to do to help him. If he really wants your help, ask him to be specific.
Talking with your child about the social and emotional issues he faces can be difficult. But it can also bring you closer. Before you jump in to help, ask if there’s anything specific he’d like you to do. If he doesn’t know, suggest that you could speak to his teacher about the situation, and see what can be done at school.