It's no secret that parenting is hard. Despite the numerous challenges, though, us parents are doing our best to raise our little ones to be the best version of themselves they can be. So what happens when our kids don't fit in to the social behavioral patterns expected of their age group? How can we help socially awkward children fit in and make friends, while simultaneously celebrating and cultivating their individuality and unique personalities?
Reddit user not_your_guru asked for advice to this age-old, often heartbreaking topic. She shares, "My daughter (5) gets really hyper around other kids. She tries really hard to be funny and make them laugh (which never works so I'm not sure why she still tries). Sometimes she'll make a face or talk nonsense then look for validation and ask, 'Was that funny?!' when the kids say 'no' she doubles up her efforts which only makes it worse. Basically she bounces around in circles around her peers and her voice gets really high pitched and squeaky. It gets to a point where kids just get so annoyed they avoid her. Her stepsisters and the neighborhood kids always single her out because of these behaviors. It's breaks my heart."
As the parent of a sometimes socially ecstatic 7-year-old child and, to a somewhat lesser degree, 5-year-old, I can hardcore relate to this loving mom. We want the world to love our precious children and it's painful when they don't. So, how can we help our kids fit in without squelching that fire that makes them their unique selves? The parents of Reddit weigh in on how to help your socially awkward kid and, well, sometimes the internet comes through when you need it to the most:
Gentle Coaching & Play Breaks
We coach our children on other behaviors, socially acceptable play should be no exception.
Teach Emotion Regulation
Believe it or not, as a therapist I notice that most adults don't know how to regulate (or sometimes even identify) their emotions. When kids get hyper and act in "weird" ways, it's generally a signal that they are having big feelings they don't know what to do with. Teaching your child the Zones of Regulation can help them figure out how to deal with their emotions in adaptive ways and (bonus!) give you a language to communicate about emotional experiences.
Personally, these zones skills have been absolutely essential in helping my partner and I assist our autistic 7-year-old child how to process, understand, and regulate her emotions and behavior.
Enroll Your Child In Pragmatics
Because my child is verbally advanced, I'd often get push back from former schools about my concern about their (my child uses gender-neutral pronouns) social interactions. When we transferred them to a school that understands the autism spectrum, we were able to start them in a weekly pragmatics group with other kids. They've learned how to take turns in conversation, not to talk over people, and other things that we might not remember to think of as adults.
Honestly, you guys, this alone has been priceless. For my child, being able to communicate effectively has helped them not feel so frustrated at being misunderstood. Therefore, meltdowns have decreased. That is the dream.
Take One Thing At A Time
Kids are overwhelming, even to some other kids. Breaking things into small, doable parts can really help with sensory overwhelm.
Get A Professional Assessment
When my child was continuously unable to be redirected or amend their socially inappropriate behavior (and the school wouldn't listen) my partner and I finally got an independent evaluation. I realize our ability to find a developmental psychologist who would work with us on a payment plan until we could get an insurance reimbursement (and the fact that we even had insurance coverage) is all part of our privilege. What I've since learned is that when we asked the school for an evaluation they had 30 days to comply. We didn't know any better and fought for it for a year and a half. When we finally figured out a way to financially swing it ourselves, our child was diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
My moral of this story? If your child is in school, find out what your local special education laws are. Talk to your pediatrician. Don't stop advocating for your child because you are the one that will make this happen.